This book set in Amsterdam in 1943 has a focus on the non-Jews of the city and how the Nazi occupation affected them.
Hanneke Bakker, 18, rides her bicycle around the city trading goods in the black market. Mostly she is asked to find items like sausage and cigarettes, until, as this story begins, one of her clients, Mrs. Janssen, asks her to help find a girl. Mrs. Janssen had been hiding 15-year-old Mirjam Roodveldt in a hidden area behind her pantry, and now Mirjam is missing. Mrs. Janssen begs Hanneke to find Mirjam before the Nazis do.
At first, Hanneke is reluctant. She works hard to protect herself and her family. As she muses, “Finding a missing girl does nothing for me at all.” She is like many of the Dutch, including her mother, who insists, “It’s not our business; there’s nothing we can do.” Hanneke gets pulled in, however, not out of altruism, but because she is intrigued by the mystery of how Mirjam could have gotten out, and where a Jewish girl could have gone.
After Hanneke takes some half-hearted steps to find out where Mirjam went, she is upbraided by Ollie Van de Kamp, the older brother of Hanneke’s dead boyfriend Bas (Sebastiaan). Bas joined the military and got killed during the initial Nazi invasion. Ollie comes to see Hanneke because he is part of the resistance, and Hanneke’s meddling is endangering their operations.
Most of the work of the resistance centers around the Hollandsche Schouwburg, a former theater being used as a deportation center for Amsterdam’s Jews. At the time of this book, some Jews who had not yet been rounded up had access to the theater as part of their association with the Jewish Council, the Nazis’ liaison to communicate their demands to the Jews.
Hanneke, who basically has kept her eyes and heart closed, thinks the Jews were just being sent to “work camps.” She learns the truth about what happens both inside the Holladsche Schouwburg and afterward from Ollie and his friends, as well as about the other crimes the Nazis are seeking to perpetrate. And of course, she learns the truth about Mirjam.
Evaluation: The depth of the author’s research adds a great deal to this “coming of age” story. While Hanneke isn’t a perfect person, she seems quite realistic, and indeed lends credence to the argument that, as the author explains in the afterword, any one of us can be both a hero and a villain at different times, depending on our decisions and the circumstances that drive them. In this way, she helps to shed light on how the non-Jewish Dutch responded to what happened during the Nazi occupation. Book clubs would find much to discuss.
Published by Little, Brown and Company, a division of Hachette Book Group, 2016