Wanted: Company Daughters. Virtuous young ladies to become the brides of industrious settlers in a foreign land. The Company will pay the cost of the lady’s dowry and travel. Returns not permitted, orphans preferred.
Amsterdam, 1620. Jana Beil has learned that life rarely provides moments of joy. Having run away from a violent father, her days are spent searching for work in an effort to stay out of the city brothels, where desperate women trade their bodies for a mouthful of bread. But when Jana is hired as a servant for the wealthy and kind Master Reynst and his beautiful daughter Sontje, Jana’s future begins to look brighter.
But then Master Reynst loses his fortune on a bad investment, and everything changes. The house is sold to creditors, leaving Jana back on the street and Sontje without a future.
With no other choice, Jana and Sontje are forced to sign with the East India Company as Company Daughters: sailing to a colonial Dutch outpost to become the brides of male settlers they know nothing about. With fear in their hearts, the girls begin their journey – but what awaits them on the other side of the world is nothing like what they’ve been promised…
Based on true history, this is a beautiful and sensual historical novel, perfect for fans of The Girl with the Pearl Earring, The Miniaturist and The Indigo Girl.
“I’ve spent most of my life in pursuit of respectability, and the one time I refused it, I finally felt free.”
Jana Biel has led a hard life. On her own at an early age she has been judged and defined by her circumstances. She has learned how to survive against the odds and make the most of her situation. Work hard, keep your head down, keep your past to yourself. At all costs protect your heart.
Over the course of the novel we see her growth and to some extent Sontje’s as well. The two women experience many hardships, but through it all there is light in Rajaram’s words. I was moved by the subversive text and the colorful descriptions of nature. Rajaram, although dealing with themes of oppression, kept reminding the reader of the beauty found in the everyday things in life.
To describe how ravenous Jana was – “She turns to fetch him while I wait on the doorstep next to the blue, open-mouthed crocuses. Hungry, just like me.”
On hope – “Helena once said the stars were like eyes watching us, winking like old friends, I always thought the stars protected us, reminded us that darkness is never complete.”
Comfort comes in the cadent song of the waves lapping onto the shore. Guidance is given by the unfurling branches of a tree.
Her descriptions of place make both Amsterdam and Batavia come alive. Careful attention is paid to the many layers in which people are oppressed. Through Jana’s narration we not only learn about this historical period but are provided a prism of compassion. We learn what it is like to be an orphan, a women of no means, queer in the 17th century. We are asked to consider the plight of the slave. Jana is flawed, human. But she is also empathetic and able to see outside herself. So when she falters she eventually recognizes, admits and tries to correct her mistakes. Her character and this book will stay with me for quite a while. Great debut!
Meet the Author
Samantha Rajaram spent most of her childhood in Gillette, Wyoming, where she and her family were the first Indian-Americans to live in the community. As a law student, she focused on social justice and international human rights law with a focus on female sex trafficking.
She is now an educator, and currently teaches composition at Chabot College in Hayward, California. She lives in the California Bay Area with her three children.
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Wonderful review, I had wondered about this book.
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