The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

The marriage to Amsterdam merchant Johannes Brandt should have provided Petronella ‚Nella‘ Oortman with stability, money and her own household. But when she arrives at her husband’s house, no one is happy to see her there. Johannes‘ wedding gift, a miniature version of their house, seems like a crude joke to her who is more unwanted guest than mistress. When the miniaturist starts sending her meaningful additions to her toy, Nella realizes that secrets infiltrate every nook and corner of her new home.

Nella’s family was put into misfortune when her father died and only left them debts. Her marriage to the Amsterdam trader Johannes Brandt was meant as a solution. But Nella also hoped that she would learn to love this older handsome and charming man. On her arrival, she is only greeted by her sister-in-law and their servants. Johannes avoids her. The only thing she gets from him is a miniature of the Amsterdam house.

Soon, strange parcels arrive. The miniaturist sends more than Nella asked for her present and the artist seems to know more about the going-ons in the house than possible. Scared, but also strangely excited, Nella begins to wait for them to be delivered.

„We can do nothing, Petronella- we women,“ Marin says. „Nothing.“ Her eyes burn with an intensity Nella has never seen in her before. „All we can do if we’re lucky is stitch up the mistakes that other people make.“

The other inhabitants of the house are as strange as the miniaturist. Johannes‘ sister Marin seems quite unhappy with her new sister-in-law. On the outside a morally rightous person with a dislike of sugar and a sharp tongue, Nella is suprised to find a room full of exotic spices, maps and bones behind her door. And a lining of thick sable fur under Marin’s black, sombre clothes. And the servants, the waif Cornelia and former slave Toot, are not as obliging as the times would demand.

When one of the well-kept secrets of the house is revealed, Nella has to fight for the new family she slowly starts to love. In a world ruled by religious fanatics and money, no one is safe from the law and the jealousy of others.

The Miniaturist is a strange tale of love, secrets and a world ruled by trade and exotic places. The narrative  is filled with suspense and we begin to wonder what is true and what is a product of our imagination? The miniaturist stays in the shadows, taunting Nella with her knowledge – or trying to help her? A colourful world enfolds in the dark Amsterdam house, while it’s secrets are slowly pried into the open.


I loved the elements of suspense and mystery in this novel and was never sure what to believe. Amsterdam in 1686 is a strange world. While traders are visiting exotic places to buy sugar and spices, their hometown is in the claws of religious fanatics that see all these things as something despicable and unmoral. And while I couldn’t fully empthasize with the characters, I enjoyed this story of women trying to find their own place in a world ruled by men.

// Deutsch

„Die Magie der kleinen Dinge“ von Jesse Burton ist die Geschichte von Nella Oortman. Nachdem ihr Vater der Familie nur Schulden hinterlassen hat, heiratet sie den etwas älteren Amsterdamer Kaufmann Johannes Brandt. Doch bei ihrer Ankuft begrüßt sie nur dessen Schwester Marin und die beiden Dienstboten – das Waisenmädchen Cornelia und der ehemalige Sklave Toot. Johannes‘ Hochzeitsgeschenk, eine Miniaturausgabe des Hauses, wird bald zu Nellas Mittelpunkt, denn in den Paketen des Miniaturkünstlers sind bald Gegenstände, die auf eine tiefgehende Kenntniss der Vorgänge im Haus schließen lassen. Doch dann wird eines der größten und dunkelsten Geheimnisse von Neelas neuer Familie gelüftet und wir erkennen, dass Neid und Hass hinter den Mauern der East India Trading Company lauern.

Ich mochte das Buch für seine mysteriösen Elemente, denn manchmal wusste man nicht ob sich Nella Dinge einbildet oder sie wirklich da sind. Und obwohl ich nicht hundertprozentig mit den Charakteren mitfühlen konnte, fand ich den Einblick in das Amsterdam des 17. Jahrhunderts spannend. Während die Kaufleute auf der anderen Seite der Welt mit exotischen Gewürzen und Stoffen handeln, ist die Heimatstadt fest in der Hand religöser Fanatiker, die sogar Lebkuchen in Menschenform verbieten. Der Roman stellt die Frauen in den Mittelpunkt, die sich ihren eigenen Platz in dieser männerdominierten Welt erkämpfen wollen.

 

Pages: 435  | ISBN: 978-1-4472-5089-0

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