Despite being a praised bestseller, The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton eluded my knowledge until my sister suggested I read it. It was a timely suggestion given I had just packed away my life in Pittsburgh to spend two months in Holland before beginning business school. I finished the novel the other day, quite fittingly during a day trip to Amsterdam– where the story takes place. Albeit more than three hundred years ago.
With its magical storytelling, suspenseful plot, and host of well-rounded female characters– all set within the Dutch Gold Age of the seventeenth century– the novel is as much a mirror of the Dutch society years ago as it is of our modern society today. The story reveals how far we have come (and how much farther we have to go) to achieve equality for women, people of color, and the LGBT community.
I never expected a book about a 1600s Dutch doll house to enliven such subjects. But it does. And eloquently so, supported by almost flawless storytelling (My sister, a writer, claims that parts of the novel are overworked– a byproduct of an author’s first novel, and I don’t disagree. But I’d be lying if I said I disliked Burton’s style.).
For me, the novel was brought to life even more with a trip to Amsterdam’s Hermitage museum, where I visited an exhibit of Dutch guild portraits that expanded my understanding of Dutch society during the Golden Age represented in The Miniaturist. As in the book, the museum revealed a society driven by the desire for wealth (not an inherently bad trait) in which the power of nobility was transferred to merchants and men who could prove their economic worth. Vanity and abuse of power notwithstanding.
There are few contemporary novels that strike me as so layered, so moving, and so poignant as The Miniaturist. If you are planning a trip to Holland (and even if you aren’t!), this book must be on your list.