Review: The Dutch Wife by Ellen Keith

4 stars

“We need to be able to laugh about what life throws at us. How else can we expect to press on?”

-Ellen Keith, The Dutch Wife

TRIGGER WARNING: rape, torture, sexual assault, violence

It’s 1943. Marijke and her husband are living in Nazi occupied Germany and doing what they can to help the resistance. However, their entire lives are turned upside-down when they are arrested and sent to a labor camp. Marijke swears to her husband that she will do whatever it takes to survive, and so when she is offered a place in the prisoners’ brothel, she cannot refuse because she knows there will be a much better chance for make it out alive.
Karl Muller is in the camp, but for a much different reason. Having been promoted to Commander of the camp, Karl’s goal is to prove to his father that he can become a Nazi legend. However, after an encounter with Marijke, he becomes enamored with her beauty.
The last piece of the story skips ahead to 1977 Argentina. Luciana has been imprisoned and tries to find ways to rebel against the Argentinian government without losing his life, all while battling feelings he should not be having for a fellow inmate.

Let me get this out of the way and say this is not an easy read. I would not recommend this to everyone and was hardly able to finish it myself. This book made me disgusted with human kind and there were times I was not able to finish certain scenes. Originally my rating was three stars, because I just didn’t know how to process this read. It wasn’t until a few days after I had put it down that I actually began to appreciate this story and changed my rating to 4 stars.

As you may have been able to gather from the synopsis, the romance in this book is absolutely sickening. This is the part I had the hardest time processing. However, I know that this part of the story was necessary and realistic. The author showed me what it would have been like to been Marijke, and I liked how she gave the character flaws. I feel like in so many books, especially when the character is suffering, the authors make them invincible and flawless, but she didn’t do this was Marijke. This made Marijke real, and made me think about all the real prisoners who went through what she did.

I also really appreciated the setting of the book. Although it was very unpleasant to read about, it was very unique and informative. Before this book, I was unaware that certain concentration camps had brothels for the prisoners and guards. I had never read a book that contained those elements and I think Keith is very brave for including them in her story. It definitely made this book stand out from other World War II novels that I have read.

The only thing about the writing I disliked was Luciano’s character. I understand what the author was trying to do, but I felt his perspective was unnecessary. We don’t see how he fits into the story until literally the last pages, and it took me out of the World War II setting and was honestly just distracting. Although I thought his story was interesting, it didn’t fit with this book and I wish the author would have published his story separately. This book did make me more interested in the Argentina Dirty War, so if this author would publish a book during that time period, I would definitely read it.

Overall, this was a wonderful debut novel. I am excited to see what this author publishes in the future and will definitely be adding her future novels to my list.