Nine Open Arms by Benny Lindelauf
It is always a delight to open a book translated by John Nieuwenhuizen. He has the wonderful skill of translating a book into English that is comfortable for kids to read, but still maintaining the literary quality that made the book worthy of note in the first place. Finding the right word is hard enough in the first place, but taking responsibility for another author’s words is a true challenge.
Nine Open Arms tells the story of a family of nine who are moving again. This time the move is to a small dilapidated house at the far end of the lane. The family is used to moving because ‘The Dad’ is not very good at holding a job. Everything they own can be bundled into a handcart. The house is well away from any neighbours, and looks very strange with doors in the wrong place, stairs leading nowhere, and the rest. Kids being kids, naturally they want to know why.
Raising the family is Oma Mei, their old grandmother. She carries one precious possession with her wherever they move. An old wooden case filled with papers and photos. When she is in the mood, Oma Mei reveals some of the secrets from this case in wild and wonderful stories.
Eleven year old Finn is out to solve these mysteries. She wants to know all the stories from Oma Mei’s case. And she wants to know why the house looks like it does. Little does she know at the start of her search how closely these two stories are linked.
This is a lovely book about family, with all their highs and lows. I have always loved reading stories based on character and narrative, and this one fills the bill.
However, as an adult I read this book feeling the large shadow over the whole story, simply because of the setting. The year is 1937, and the ‘new’ house is near the border between Holland and Germany. What happened to the family just a year later? Will we ever know.