Flesh And Grass
Published by Smashwords in 2010
This book counts for the following Reading Challenges:
MY THOUGHTS ABOUT THIS BOOK
Last year, I launched into a world tour through books (I read 40 out of 52 books each in a different country), which I plan to finish this year. As it was a wonderful experience, I decided to travel through every state of the US this year, following the official order of their date of statehood.
State #1 is Delaware. Things started tough, as there are not that many novels set in Delaware, apart from romance novels I have to desire to read, and even less in my public library. I finally stumbled upon Libby Cone, a Goodreads author, who graciously accepted to send me her ebook set in that state!
Once the author had finished her manuscript, new historical data surfaced, and she discovered that information she used turned out not to be true. So she does not officially calls her book a historical novel. Hmm, I wish all historical novel writers had the same honesty…
Based on some historical facts, but loosely used here according to the author, Flesh And Grass retells the story of one of the first Dutch colonies in the 17th century, first as they prepare, launch on their trip and settle on our shores. It is described through the description of Cornelis, a young blind boy, member of that Mennonite community.
I liked all the descriptions related to their way of living, of eating, cooking (they roasted herons on the spit!! – p.49; their “sheep’s milk cheese was colored green by the boiled sheep’s excrement” !!!- p.88), etc., and how their community was organized, under the leadership of a tough man, who reminded me of the missionary dad in The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbra Kingsolver – this is not someone you would want to emulate.
I had no idea how tough life got for these first colonies. This was a real discovery for me: and of course their problems did not come mostly from their encounters with the natives, this went rather well, but with other Europeans, and with jurisdiction laws and decisions taken thousands of miles away. Talk about battle for power and turf…
The small colony was burned down twice and had to restart from scratch. At the end of the book, Cornelis moves further inland, in the hope for better protection.
Cornelis is blind, so his descriptions are focused a lot on what he smells. As we are at the time of major business with sheep and spices, that works! Cornelis contributes to the community by knitting and selling stockings.
The author decided to try to convey her story in the way the characters would have spoken at the time in English. I trust she did a good research on that, I don’t have time to check, but I have to say it took me a while to feel accustomed to the awkward phrases in dialogues, for instance: “What think you?” p.19
There’s no real plot, it is more the day to day life in all its grittiness. So if you are looking for a very adventurous exciting book, pass on this one. On the other hand, if you like terra incognita, something new and different, on early American history, you should definitely give it a shot.
WHAT IS IT ABOUT
Seventeenth-century Holland is a major power with a large, wealthy middle class built on spices and slavery. Dutch schemes to colonize the New World attract few interested parties, but Pieter Cornelissoon Boom, an early Mennonite with a dream of communal living, brings a few families to Delaware Bay in 1663. Their “Little Common-wealth” is just getting started when the bloody economic rivalry between Holland and England unleashes violence on the coast of Delaware. The Nieuw Netherland colonies swing between Dutch and English ownership in a series of Anglo-Dutch wars. Cornelis, Boom’s blind son, tells the story of the community (based loosely on the ill-fated Delaware settlement of Pieter Plockhoy) in its various forms of existence, relying on his exquisite memory of scent. [Goodreads]
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
I am a radiologist who was bored with work, and embarked on a ten-year odyssey to get an MA in Jewish Studies. This led to my reinvention of myself as a writer.
My first novel, War on the Margins, is about the Holocaust playing out in microcosm on the tiny Channel Island of Jersey, which was occupied by German soldiers and Nazi functionaries for the duration of World War II.
My second book, Flesh and Grass, is about a blind kid growing up in colonial Delaware. He is the son of the founder of a short-lived Dutch utopian settlement that was adversely affected by the conflicts between Holland and Britain. It is loosely based on the ill-fated Swanendael settlement of Pieter Plockhoy. The son’s memories are primarily olfactory due to his extraordinary sense of smell. Like my first book, Flesh and Grass examines the ephemerality of official identity.
I live in Philadelphia with my husband and many pets. When I am not writing or reading CT scans, I review books for The New Podler Review of Books.
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