Lead Review (plus top tips from the author for a visit to Amsterdam)
- Book: The Lover’s Portrait
- Location: Amsterdam
- Author: Jennifer S Alderson
Firmly set in Amsterdam, this enjoyable mystery explores the darker world of misappropriated and stolen art works during World War II.
Zelda Richardson, an American, is applying to do a Master’s programme in Amsterdam and therefore must not jeopardise her future by ill-considered actions. But she is a head strong young woman who is doing an internship at the Amsterdam Museum, where they are putting the finishing touches to the exhibition “Stolen Objects: Unclaimed Paintings and Sculptures in Dutch Museum Depots” due to open in a month’s time. All items in the exhibition – well over a 1000 – were taken from Dutch citizens during the Nazi occupation of the city. Publicity, it is hoped, will reunite some of the works of art with their rightful owners, but provenance – proof of ownership – is the key.
Details are already up on the Homepage and it is the painting “Irises” by Wederstein, rather an obscure piece to garner so much attention. The first claimant is Rita Brouwer but hot on her heels is the second claimant Karen O’Neil. Zelda, as the adult Nancy Drew, is on a mission to find out who the genuine claimant is and who the imposter. Things certainly get tense as she delves deeper into the stories of each claimant, and certainly her instinct tells her which woman has a genuine case. But she needs hard evidence. If Karen’s claim is not water-tight what is it that is driving her?
Flashback to the war years and the assumed owner at the time has been asked to store other works of art from the prying Nazi eyes. But he soon finds himself being blackmailed for reasons that become apparent…
A good insight, via fiction, into the dark world of stolen artefacts, well researched and written with a good pace.
Setting is delightful. Zelda herself is trying to get her tongue round the Dutch language, and there are smatterings of the language to add authenticity. She spends time with her friend Friedrich at the Vondelpark and Museumplein, takes a trip out to Urk, and observes the unusual presence of parakeets, which if you have been to Amsterdam may well strike a chord – they are certainly an unanticipated sight in a northern European city. There are many more passing references for a bit of literary wanderlust to enjoy throughout the book. She has captured the very Dutch nature of the city and clearly knows it well.
Over to Jennifer for a couple of Amsterdam insider tips …..
Summer in Amsterdam is all about being outdoors; hanging out with your friends and soaking up as much sun as possible. That’s why you come across so many sidewalk terraces in the warmer months, mostly filled with locals and tourists whiling the day away over a beer and bitterballen. As a long-time resident of this fabulous city I wanted to share a few insider tips with you, things locals like to do on a sunny day that you probably won’t find in your guidebook.
Be the skipper of your own boat. Thanks to controversial changes in the regulation of Amsterdam’s extensive canal system, it is now possible for anyone to rent and steer an electric-motor, flat-bottom boat from a growing number of local companies. There is something truly magical about navigating through the maze of canals and marina’s crisscrossing the city. Somehow gazing up at the UNESCO-protected architecture from your boat’s low vantage point makes the grand canal houses and churches even more majestic. Do what the Dutch do; take along a picnic and a bottle of wine to make it reallygezellig. However, it’s not for the faint of heart. The electric motors aren’t as strong as they may appear, especially if you get caught in the diesel-powered wake of the ruthless rondvaart boats still dominating the city’s canals. For me, the adrenaline rush is all part of the fun! Don’t wait too long or you might miss you’re chance. The new regulations are still being fought in court by the handful of boat rental companies who’ve monopolized the right to sail within the city’s waterways for as long as most Amsterdammers can remember.
Get high (up). There are several restaurants, lounges and viewing platforms where you can pay through the nose to briefly stand on their rooftop terraces, or you can head to the Amsterdam Library for one of the best – and free – bird’s eye views of the city. From their wide, open-air terrace on the seventh story, you can see the distinctive horseshoe-shape of the canals, most of the outlying suburbs, and – on a really clear day – Schiphol Airport. It’s quite a sight. The library has even placed handy signs indicating the names of the monumental buildings and churches on display before you.
Get out of the center. Behind Central Station are three free ferries connecting the city center with the suburbs on the Northern side of the River IJ, known as Amsterdam Noord. The Buiksloterweg ferry takes you straight across the water to arguably one of the hottest places in Amsterdam at the moment – the Tolhuistuin. It’s a funky, sprawling complex of low-level buildings housing a warehouse-sized restaurant, art gallery, bike repair shop, and (rock) concert hall. Hang out on one of their terraces and watch cruise ships, barges, yachts and dinghy’s sail along the river, against the spectacular backdrop of the historic city center on the Southside. If you’re looking to get a picture of yourself with the iconic ‘I Amsterdam’ logo, one was recently placed next to the entrance of the Tolhuistuin, and – in contrast to the one on Museumplein – is almost always tourist-free.