Pediatric surgeon Nora de Jong arrives home from work on a November afternoon in 1980 to discover Anneke, her mother, dead. As Nora stares unbelievingly at the bullet hole in Anneke's forehead, she wills herself not to faint. Then she screams for her baby daughter, Rose, just six months old. Her search of the house reveals the worst: Rose is gone. It also reveals a man, lying on the carpet. The stranger is dead, and a gun lies near his outstretched arm.
The police arrive. While Nora talks to Lieutenant Richards, her friend, Marijke, enters the room, attempting to comfort her. As Richards questions Nora, asking if her mother had any enemies, Nora reflects on Anneke's quiet, contained life. Nora's parents were Dutch immigrants who embraced privacy and led an orderly, predictable existence. After her father died, Anneke's circle shrunk even more, but she delighted in her garden and in tending her tiny granddaughter. Nothing, Nora tells Richards, could be further from their lives than this kind of violence. Richards assures her that everything will be done to try to find Anneke's murderer, and that he has already set the wheels in motion for finding Rose.
"The desperate mother's quest and the uncovering of wartime secrets combine to make THE TULIP EATERS an enjoyable and fascinating read."
The scene changes now, showing the reader what happened to Anneke before Nora arrived. She has been gardening, frequently checking on Rose who slept in the living room. It is warm here in Houston, not at all the way Holland would be. Her memories of being a carefree girl there intrude, along with darker memories, but she whisks them away before she is swamped by regrets.
In the living room, she kisses Rose on the cheek as the doorbell rings. When she opens the door, she finds a tall, white-haired man bearing a bouquet of tulips, which makes her smile --- until he drops the flowers and lunges for her, choking her. Anneke falls to the carpet, reeling in horror, and then realizes the man is speaking Dutch. As he kicks her, asking if she recognizes him, Rose begins to cry. The stranger picks the baby up. Anneke tries to take Rose from him, begging and pleading for him to give her the infant. He laughs, cruelly, calling Anneke a Nazi and informing her that he is Isaac, the brother of a man she once loved. Isaac denounces Anneke as a traitor and hacks her hair off while he rants at her, saying his father starved in a concentration camp after Anneke betrayed him. Anneke protests, saying she is innocent, but Isaac scoffs.
Anneke manages to escape him, grab Rose and find her pistol, but she is again overcome after another man enters the house. This man calls Isaac "Papa," urging him to put the gun down. As Isaac prepares to shoot Anneke, she tells him something that will change the course of events, turning Isaac's son, Ariel, into a kidnapper after Isaac kills Anneke and then succumbs to a heart attack. After Ariel manages to transport Rose back to Amsterdam, Nora discovers shocking clues to her parents' lives during World War II, which urgently propel her to Amsterdam. Can she unravel her family's past and discover the link to her daughter in order to find Rose?
Author Antoinette van Heugten ably highlights Holland's history during World War II, bringing the struggle between Nazi sympathizers and resistance fighters to life. As Nora desperately seeks to find her daughter, she also discovers how the past reverberates into the present. Although some of the plot details feel a bit repetitive and the actions of present-day villains seem far-fetched at times, Nora's panicked search for her daughter rings true and keeps us turning page after page. The desperate mother's quest and the uncovering of wartime secrets combine to make THE TULIP EATERS an enjoyable and fascinating read.
Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon on December 1, 2013