I know that it sounds cliche to review this in English while the book is only available in Dutch language. Well, I hope it will be available in English soon. The title in English would be Tropical Bride.
Anna Prinsenhoek is an orphan who lives in Amsterdam city. She lives at the shelter and she’s tired of following the strict rules. Susan Smit described the life at a shelter as a life full of misery, the girls living there are only good for doing physical works, and Anna is someone who loves to have adventure, not someone who would be willing to serve as maid. Hence, when she sees an advertisement on the newspaper about an officer living in Dutch East Indies (Indonesia) looking for a wife, she applies. She’s amazed that the man, Willem Francken, replies her mail and chooses her.
Arrives in Batavia, she’s brought to Weltevreden (Central Jakata/Jakarta Pusat). Anna realises that her life changes.
Willem Francken is a cold-hearted officer and Anna thinks that his previous wife is deceased as he has two young daughters, Minah and Lin and they have a governess, Mary, who takes care of them. When Anna talks to Minah and Lin, she finds out that their mother is still alive, but that she’s been banished. And she soon also finds out that her marriage to Willem is only a cover up for his dream job, and love affair. His previous wife was not his wife, but he’s slept with his njai (female servant, status higher than the rest of the servants as she controls the household). For the sake of his status, he banished Sri (the njai) but adopted/made their daughters his legitimate children. Willem banished Sri because she’s a njai, and not Dutch.
Willem and Anna don’t sleep in the same bedroom. He only visits her when he wants to have sex with her, and she is not allowed to enter his bedroom if he doesn’t ask her to. She’s really leading a boring life at the moment as she doesn’t have to do anything to get it done. They have cook, maid, male servant, and a gardener, his daughters have their own governess who accompanies them. Although she and the governess can’t get along with each other, she manages to get along with the maid, who they call Baboe (baboe (pronunciation: baboo) is not a name, but literally means maid in Indonesian language). She asked Baboe where the njai lives. At first, Baboe hesitates to tell, but after her explanation, she finally tells her and she visits Sri, the njai, on the next day. Sri lives in a village, when she’s on her way, she gets help by a young man, as old as she is, named Regi. He leads her the way to where Sri lives. Anna promises her to bring her daughters with her the next time she visits her.
There’s a moment when Regi and Anna fall in love with each other, but she soon finds out that Regi is her husband’s son, hence his name is Regi NekcnarF because Willem didn’t make him his legitimate son (children who are not legitimate got their father’s lastname written backward. NekcnarF = Francken). Willem soon finds out about their love affair. How it ends is a mystery which you can find when you read the book 😉
The author Susan Smit dragged me from the rough life in Amsterdam to Batavia in 1907. She wrote the situation very beautifully and she really took me back to that era, when Batavia was not as crowded as now. I like how she described about the nights, the sound that the grasshoppers made, and other insects that flew, or crawled on the wooden windows, but also about the shops, the fashion mode, and the situation of Batavia in general. Nevertheless, I am in my opinion that the author should mention mosquitos, including the bites as for me, it seems so incomplete.
Although this book is nicely written and very dragging, the most exciting action is in the last few chapters. I find that this book and Lichter Dan Ik (literally translated: Lighter Than I) by Dido Michielsen are a complement to each other. Tropenbruid is told from the Dutch side, while Lichter Dan Ik from the Indonesian side (from the Njai’s side).