Blog Tour: The Company Daughters

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Synopsis

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 EarringThe Miniaturist and The Indigo Girl.


Review

“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.

Where You Can Find Her

A revelatory reimagining of the slave narrative

Frannie Langton is a mulatta woman in 19th century England being tried for the murder of her master and his wife. She protests her innocence but gives us Confessions as her accounting. Gothic in style, The Confessions of Frannie Langton turns the typical slave narrative on its head. Although our protagonist makes it a point to say that she does not want to focus on the abomination that is slavery her testimony makes it hard to overlook these atrocities.

I could not help but make comparisons to Edugyan’s Washington Black. The parallels that I saw between the two books were:

Both looked at science and discovery in the 1800’s and how the scientific method was both driven by and overlooked because of racial prejudice.
Both protagonists are unaware of their mother’s identity until they reach adulthood. Each faces the inherent abandonment issues of motherless children – the trauma suffered by the separation of families and loss of identity. In addition both Frannie and Washington must deal with the guilt and horror of the sins committed against these parents when they knew not who these women were, all at once realizing the supreme sacrifice that each of their mothers gave.
Both were enamored with their enslaver. In the case of Washington it was Titsch. He simply could not see his faults or how he was being used for Titsch’s own ends. He was more naive then Frannie and didn’t come to realize that he was not valued or appreciated in the sense that he wanted to be. For Frannie it is her mistress whom she falls in love with. She gets her addicted to laudanum and takes advantage of her position. The old story of master raping and manipulating his slaves is well known and often seen in literature. Although we recognize that power is a potent intoxicating drug, we often don’t consider that power is power regardless of who is wielding the sword.

Now Frannie is not innocent by any means. She has had her hands dirty and has committed her own crimes. Frannie also admits to being angry and how this anger has subsumed her and followed her throughout her life. But in the end The Confessions of Frannie Langton is about taking power over your own voice. This was evident when “Lightning Laddy” was relaying a story his mother told him as a child about the Asiki. The Asiki were changelings – African children stolen and transformed by witches so that not only their appearance changed but that they also lost their ability to talk along with their memories. The question posed was “What would they tell us if they did have tongues?”  What of the exceptional Negro? Do they suffer the same as every other black? Are they used as pawns to perpetuate stereotypes and racist agenda? To answer those “well meaning” white abolitionists who bind the African by their stunted definitions and implicit racism Laddy Lightning replies: “Here’s the rub. You asking me to speak for them. How can I? Why have you asked me? Because you look at a single black man and see all black men. As if one black man is representative of every member of his race. Allowed neither personality nor passion.”

There were so many parts of this book that moved me. Both the language and the content were stirring. I am impressed. Bold. Absolutely refreshing.