This novel began with a Prologue that became a perplexing mystery for me, when I began to doubt I'd ever tie it in with the rest of the narrative. I soon forgot about it, though, when the story about the little girl, Nelleke, became so engrossing.
The Seventh Etching, by Judith K. White, is a historical novel set in seventeenth century Amsterdam. It is, in part, about the old City Orphanage—now a museum—which housed and taught orphans of Amsterdam's citizens for four centuries.
Nelleke is one of those orphans. A high energy four-year-old who asks endless questions, Nelleke has become too much for her aunt and uncle to handle along with all their farm chores. When her uncle delivers her to the orphanage and then leaves, Nelleke becomes hysterically inconsolable. Another older orphan girl, Isabela, who has a remarkable ability to calm children like Nelleke, is called in. We learn that Isabela was from Spain, lost her mother years earlier, survived a shipwreck which killed her father, and was left stranded. At that time, Isabela had no easy way to get home. Spain and the Netherlands were at war, even while trade went on surreptitiously and Dutch sailors sometimes served on Spanish trade ships.
Nelleke and Isabela form a powerful bond as we learn more about daily life in the orphanage and meet some members of the governing board: the Reagents. One of these Reagents, Jos Broekof, collects art works of a particular nature. He has an incomplete set of one-of-a-kind etchings by an artist who was murdered before he could deliver the last, seventh one. Through Nelleke, Broekof discovers he may eventually be able to acquire his precious seventh etching.
The different plot threads eventually come together but not before some grief, romance, high adventure, a meeting with Dutch Master Artist, Rembrandt van Rijn, and another mystery have intervened. I even found out how the Prologue tied in.
While I found several places with missing quotation marks, which resulted in a scrambled meaning and also made it hard to tell who was talking/thinking or being talked/thought about, I enjoyed the story.
This is a first novel for White, and there will be others spinning off from this one.
Read an excerpt from this book.
With five siblings, three children and three grandchildren, Judith K. White is a family drama expert. Living in Amsterdam, she became fascinated with the city's 17th century history. Linguist, educator, entrepreneur and fundraiser, Judith lives in Brookline, Massachusetts with her husband, Allen L. White. The Seventh Etching is her first novel. Visit her website.
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