Top critical review
A Dutch Family Struggles -- World War II
Reviewed in the United States on July 15, 2019
This tragic true story of an unlikely couple swept up in Nazi-era Holland is a fascinating tale of survival and loss. Rika, the main character, is an independent woman, mother of five, who leaves her controlling husband to make her way on her own. A Catholic, her husband is Protestant, and her family considers their marriage a mortal sin.
Her husband becomes a high level civil servant, and the family moves with his positions. Rika finds small-town life stifling, and as she fights her restlessness her husband became increasingly jealous and irascible.
Rika takes her toddler son with her when she flees her intolerable family strife. The family maid, Jan, stays with the children and her first husband. Rika writes lengthy letters to the children to try to maintain relationships. Rika’s first husband works to poison her children against her, but Rika persists to maintain contact with most of her children. Many of her letters have survived, and are woven into the story. Rika’s attempts at one-sided communications tug at the heart.
Having no marketable skills, she is able to rent an apartment large enough for boarders, and parlays her household skills into, eventually, owning a large seaside hotel.
A cousin had married a black man from Surinam, a Dutch colony. Rika takes as a boarder Waldemar, the Surinamese nephew of the cousin’s successful husband. Waldy is much younger than Rika. Their love story develops as Hitler ascends. They have a child, a boy named after his father, who is the “Boy Between Worlds” of the title, and the “Sonny Boy” of a movie based on his life.
After Holland falls to the Nazis, Rika and Waldy hide Jews and assist in the Resistance. They are eventually taken by the Germans to labor camps, where the details of their existence are difficult to read.
Global trauma, personal victories, and human links are all part of this fine history.