Sunday, May 17, 2015

Nine Open Arms by Benny Lindelauf, John Nieuwenhuizen (Translator)

The past eleven years I've been a wanderer like Fing's (Josephine's) family. "We were globetrotters within our town. North, south, east, west: we were able to go everywhere but didn't feel at home anywhere, and now it seems we were about to move again." That is a good description of a career as an international teacher. Many counter it by purchasing a home somewhere. At least then it feels like you have roots in a place, even if you are only there a couple of months. This theme of wandering is one of many throughout this story. Others include lies versus truths, disabilities, bullies, lost love, and more. The story is divided into three parts that comes together with a strong ending.

Fing's Dutch father is always starting some new venture that doesn't quite succeed. He's eternally optimistic and and tells his six children to "First believe, then see" and to choose the "opposite of worrying." Their mother is dead and their gruff and loving grandmother, Oma Mei, with a swivel-eye does most of the disciplining, feeding, and caring for the children. The family has arrived at a new home at the end of Sjlammbams Sahara, a road with a house facing the opposite direction of the road and full of secrets. Fing and her sisters start to uncover those secrets and find out why Oma Mei has been lying to them.

The setting is in the Netherlands during the 1930's, while the middle part is a flashback to the 1860's. The last part travels to 1937 and pulls the story together. I struggled the most with the first part because the pacing was slow and the character traits of the girls took awhile to materialize in my brain. It could be my brain though. I wasn't feeling well and had a headache when reading this so try it yourself to see what you think. My reading buddy, Angela, didn't have a problem with the first part but found the flashback weird. Either way we both agree it came together at the end well and had some unique twists.

Jess, Fing's younger sister, has a twisted spine and has to wear a brace. She is teased at school and hates it that she can't perform the same tasks as her older sister. When she makes friends with a bum, it suggests that the two have an understanding of what it means to suffer and be marginalized in society. Rather than calling her disability by a medical term, they call it her wreckbone. The wreckbone becomes a metaphor for suffering that happens in the family mentally as well as physically. The secrets that the grandma is hiding about her husband are not healthy and the father moving all the time looking for his next "successful" career is wearing on the children that need to settle down and make friends. The ending suggests healing and hope for the future.

In the United States and Britain, very few books are translated. Jack Zipes gives a figure in his book, "Relentless Progress: The Reconfiguration of Children's Literature, Fairy Tales, and Storytelling," but it is checked out and I can't look up the exact numbers. Needless to say, I do remember that the market for books in English is the largest and that the statistics quoted for translated books were miniscule in comparison. Hopefully this will change more in the future. Studying other cultures brings tolerance and empathy. We really are not much different from each other and what better way to show that then in a story.

4 Smileys

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