Cast Off: The strange adventures of Petra de Winter and Bram Broen by Eve Yohalem.
1663. Twelve year old Petra de Winter has stowed away on The Golden Lion, a Dutch merchant ship in the harbor of Amsterdam. She is determined to escape her abusive father, but as the ship leaves harbor on its way to the Cape of Good Hope and thence on to the East indies, Petra realizes that she cannot remain hidden on her own. It’s up to Bram Broen, son of the ship’s carpenter, half Dutch and Half Javanese, to show Petra how she can manage to evade capture and survive the coming months at sea.
It’s obvious that Ms. Yohalem did her research for this sea-faring adventure novel. Indeed, she says in the author’s note at the end of the book that her corollary to the old adage that an author should write what she knows is that “it’s okay to write what you don’t know; just make sure you do a lot of research.” She goes on to write, “Details about housekeeping, clothing, decor, Dutch fastidiousness, . . . food and medicine are all authentic. Whether the streets were brick or dirt, the ten p.m. curfew—all true in 1600’s Amsterdam.” And as far as I can tell, she goes on to get the nautical details right, too. The ship and its crew and the battle scene (yes, there’s a battle with pirates!) and all medical jargon felt right and was worked into the story in such an interesting and intriguing manner that I forgot I was getting a history lesson as I read.
The story is told in alternating voices, first by Petra, and then by Bram. There are class differences between the two children, as well as the obvious gender and cultural differences. Petra is the daughter of a wealthy merchant, but she’s developed a tough enduring spirit as a result of the abuse she has suffered from her father. Bram grew up barefoot and free on the island of Java, and then after his mother died, he became his father’s assistant on the ship, unable to leave the ship anywhere in Europe because of his mixed-race status. It takes time and work for the two to become friends and allies, but they do come to understand and support each other.
The ending was a little abrupt. Maybe the author intended to leave room for a sequel? If so, I’ll be interested to find out what happens to Petra and to Broem next. If not, I wish them well in their new life.
Last week was the week of World War 2 historical fiction and nonfiction. This week I think we’ll be taking a journey back to seventeenth century Europe. Some time this week, I’ll try to suggest some books that I’ve read in the past that take place in 1600’s Europe. Do you have any favorites from that time period?