Hanneke Bakker is a Dutch national, living in Amsterdam in 1943. Working in the black-market trade, she searches for highly sought-after items, such as cigarettes, good cuts of meat, coffee and tea, and sells them to the people who can pay for them. Her parents, who tend to stay at home during the day unless they are at one of her father’s doctor’s appointments, believe that she is working solely as a receptionist at the local funeral home. This is an ideal scenario for Hanneke’s boss Mr Kreuk, who actually owns and runs the funeral home and has operations in the lucrative black-market trade on the side. Making daily deliveries to people’s homes and businesses, Hanneke sees all kinds of people and develops a sixth sense for danger and subterfuge. Not only does she have to be wary of sympathisers to the German occupation, but she also has to look out for the soldiers that patrol the streets, and try to remain neutral about her hatred of the Nazis in unfamiliar company.
While making her rounds one day, Hanneke visits Mrs Janssen, an old woman whose husband has disappeared and whose youngest son-a soldier- was recently killed. While there, Mrs Janssen reveals to Hanneke an unwanted secret and a unique request. Mrs Janssen has been hiding a fifteen-year-old Jewish girl behind a secret compartment in her pantry, and now the girl- Mirjam Roodveldt- is missing- seemingly vanished into thin air. The sole survivor in a raid that killed Mirjam’s entire family, and also Mr Janssen (as it turns out), Mirjam was secreted into the space, with only Mrs Janssen aware of her existence. Feeling that Hanneke is the only person she can trust, she asks her to search for Mirjam before the Nazis can find her. Reluctantly, Hanneke starts to search for the missing Jew. But as she learns more about Mirjam, and becomes involved with a group of people (including an old acquaintance, Ollie) who are not all as she thought they were, she also starts to learn more about herself. Will Hanneke be able to survive this foray into new and uncertain territory within Amsterdam’s city limits? Through her actions, will she be able to assuage the guilt she feels about previous events in her life? Will she be able to find one single girl- one missing among hundreds- and potentially save her?
Throughout this book, Hanneke emotionally grows as a person. She initially hates the Nazis for personal reasons, rather than for any of the atrocities that they are creating. She feels that when they broke their promise not to invade the Netherlands, they let her down. She feels that they were partly responsible for the way that her life has turned out- hardly any friends around, no further study after finishing school, and working an illicit job just to keep her family fed and alive. It isn’t until later, when she becomes involved in Ollie’s world and extends beyond her own personal bubble that she begins to realise just how sheltered she actually is (despite her original convictions), When she learns how the Nazis are having a far more dangerous and significant role in the lives of others than in her own, she mentally grows up, and starts to see that she can play a bigger role in the rebellion, even if it puts her in greater danger. She starts to think of people other than herself and her almost paltry concerns, and strives to make a change. This coming-of-age story is inspiring and really makes you think about the sacrifices and daily danger that the rebels of the war faced, just trying to make a difference. Although this is a fictional novel, it is based on a lot of historical events, making the story seem doubly believable and all the more engaging for readers.
Published: April 2016
#World War II