Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Forget about The Tulip Eaters - The Dutch Ate Bulbs in the Hunger Winter

Elliott Bay Books, one of my favorite local Indie bookstores sends out a weekly email with reading suggestions. The emails usually come with ads in the margin and footnote; I thought I was able to ignore. Last November however a picture of a white tulip, pulled out of the soil, dirt still attached to the bulb and hairy roots attracted my attention.
The title The Tulip Eaters, and the author's Dutch family name Van Heugten drew me in further.
My moniker is Dutchess Abroad, what can I say?
  The Tulip Eaters
They did not eat tulips, they ate the bulbs. That was my first thought seeing the pretty cover picture of The Tulip Eaters. I know, because I'm from the Netherlands, and raised on WWII literature. The subject has captured my attention my whole life. Was the title an indication of the number of inconsistencies a reader could expect in book? I told myself I shouldn't judge the book by its cover, and read on, red pen in hand.

Let me share right of the bat: The florid writing is uneven. It's almost as if there's more than one writer involved. The close third person narrative (used for the point of view of the protagonist, and three antagonists) is unrealistic. The characters (especially the Jewish Isaac, Ariel, Amarisa and Dirk) are unbelievable, cartoonish, two-dimensional.
Historical facts about food distribution, concentration camps, and Nazi rules concerning Jewish and gentile citizens are mangled. The WWII timeline isn't honored, and on top of that the book's own timeline is inconsistent.

- The last round-ups of Dutch Jews happened in the late summer of 1944.
- Anne Frank and family members were deported on the last train to the east in Sept. 1944.
- Amsterdam was liberated on the 5th of May, 1945.
- By April of 1945 there were most definitely no more deportations.
- Jews deported to Theresienstadt had to memorize their numbers, they were not tattooed on their arms.

Get my point? The above renders the plot line of the book completely lame. Yes, there were still shootings at the very end of the war, and even after May 5th the Nazis killed people in a wild shooting on the Dam Square in Amsterdam, but there were no more deportations. And Henny Rosen was not deported.

Why did I read on? To find out if things could get worse, and they did.

The book's anti-hero Ariel, the only character who undergoes change, he shows remorse in the end for kidnapping his cousin's daughter, shares thoughts about his aunt Amarisa in chapter 10: "God, it wasn’t just having to tell her [about Isaac's death], a filthy rich diamond merchant, as cold and calculation in business as she was in life."
Later on in chapter 18: "… She shook her bony finger at him. 'Don't forget I know important people in this city. Judges, Cabinet ministers —they've all bought diamonds from me. All it would take is one phone call and you'd go to jail. And never see Rose again.'
"Ariel knew all she said was true. Amsterdam was the largest diamond center in the world. She had been in the trade for almost forty years and had forged relationships with people in high places."

This, gentle reader, spells conspiracy theory.

Stories about the Holocaust need to be addressed with care. Fictionalizing history, the reports of survivors and victims has long been frowned upon. And now that we do have plenty of novels about the subject to choose from, I still know a child of survivors who agonizes over the point of view she uses for her personal story. She fears an account written in third person would suggest fictionalization of the truth, which could give Holocaust deniers ammunition. This book is the equivalent of a well stocked armory.

Design 50 Guilders bank note: Ootje Oxenaar click on jpg 
The sad state of affairs in the publishing business is that editors these days only pay attention to typos, syntax and other grammatical mistakes. Forget developmental editing; continuity, plot line, and fact checking. This book is filled with mistakes that could easily have been corrected if someone had made the effort.

For instance: Nora spots a yellow/gold bank note in the dead man's pocket and identifies it as a 25-guilder bill —in reality that would've been red, the 50-guilders bill designed by Ootje Oxinaar shows the luminous sunflower in yellow and gold.

There may be a reason for Nora's parents to claim she was born in Houston on May 15, 1945, and that they didn't share her real birthday on May 1st in Amsterdam. Although you wonder how they got away with lying about her birth in the U.S. But to have Anneke share in a letter that she discovered she was pregnant at the end of the war? Did she suffer immediate conception and full gestation all at once?

For readers who like to follow the footsteps of a characters in a book: there's no tram from Schiphol to Amsterdam, and there's no nunnery on the isle of Schiermonnikoog.

There are plenty more notes where the above came from, but this is how far I want to go with this report. Each time I tell someone about this book I say "The Onion Readers", probably because I nearly cried in frustration, and because the message contained within the thriller/romance novel bookends stinks.

Reading the book was no pleasure. So why did I finish the whole book? So I could enter a review on the GoodReads site. Why bother? a friend said, who reads these kind of books anyway?
Well he'd be surprised.

Estimated sales of Romance novels for 2013 is $1.350 billion. According to Romance Industry Statistics published on the site of Romance Writers of America the genre makes up the largest share of the U.S. consumer market, and generated $1.438 billion of sales in 2012. In 2008 74.8 million people read a least one romance novel. 

Books such as The Tulip Eaters are not reviewed by well regarded reviewers, they're given stars by readers who receive free copies from the publisher. Those readers are so thankful for the freebies they wouldn't dare pan the book. They give 3 or 4 or even 5 stars because they don't want the author, nor the publisher to think that they dint appreciate that wonderful package that came in the mail. 

Initially I wanted to stay mum, thinking that even negative attention was attention that could drive sales up —especially when books are given away for free, or sold for 99 cents. That is, until I realized that in today's market *stars* matter. I would have preferred to just say what was wrong with The Tulip Eaters, but that's not possible, you have to give at least 1 star. So there you have it. One star. 

View all my reviews

This work by Judith van Praag is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License
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