Nine Open Arms is a rather nice story, set in the Netherlands immediately before WWII. It’s the kind of story we don’t see so much of, and certainly not as much as we ought to, as not enough translated children’s fiction makes it across the language barriers.
I don’t know Benny Lindelauf who wrote Nine Open Arms, which was published in the original over ten years ago, and has finally arrived in the English speaking world in a translation by John Nieuwenhuizen, whose work I have come across before.
Told by 11-year-old Fing, it’s the story about a family who move around a lot. It seems to have something to do with The Dad’s inability to keep down a job, rather than follow his next dream, taking his seven children and his mother-in-law along. In 1937 they are just arriving in Sjlammbams Sahara, discovering the house they are about to move into is pretty unusual as houses go. But at least it’s bigger than they’ve been used to, and Fing and her sisters Jess and Muulke have their own room.
We never learn much about their four older brothers, but do see a lot of their grandmother Oma Mei. She tells stories.
Strange house, with strange things happening in and near it. And there is the mystery of their dead mother, and the reputation of their dead Opa Pei. The Dad’s new venture is cigar making, and I think you can guess how well that goes.
Then there is the cemetery next door and the gravestone and the tales from the past about Charley Bottletop and Nienevee from Outside the Walls. It’s all slightly strange, but it makes sense in the end, and it’s really quite a sweet tale, once you know ‘everything.’ It shows you how resilient children are, and how they take the oddest things in their stride.
And we really ought to read more books from the outside.