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Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Book Review: Die a Dry Death by Greta van der Rol

Die a Dry Death is a retelling of the true story of the shipwreck of the Batavia in 1629 and the horrors that occurred afterwards. On a journey to the Dutch East Indies the ship hit a reef. Most of the passengers managed to get ashore to some small yet barren islands nearby. The commandeur Pelsaert and Ariaen Jacobsz, the captain, after checking two other nearby islands, made the decision to take a small group towards their destination in the longboat, with the intention of returning to help the rest. However, once they'd left,  Jeronimus Cornelisz took charge and began a reign of terror on the islands, determined to cull the numbers and get rid of rivals in anticipation of high-jacking the rescue ship.

What Greta van der Rol does in this book is bring a terrible story to life deftly and without melodrama. It's a different tale to tell, especially giving life to what are, for the most part, names. Getting into the mind of Cornelisz is interesting, providing a plausible take on his thought processes after the wreck. With this being fiction, the author also puts forward an interesting theory about Jacobsz involvement in a plot with Cornelisz, prior to the wreck, to steal the Batavia and the goods on board. For the most part this book is dark, realistic and genuinely horrific.

Aside from the three characters already mentioned, some of the other important ones include Wiebbe Hayes, a soldier who is banished to another island and left to starve, Lucretia, a high-ranking passenger who Cornelisz wants as his mistress, and the Predikant and his family, including his daughter, Judyk. These are the people who shine brightest in this novel though, due to the number of names who pass though, it is easy to get a little disorientated at times.

Incredibly dark and very well written, Die a Dry Death brings to life the events of 1629 vividly. It's an unsettling one to say the least and I had to read it all in one day because I didn't want to leave it overnight. The haunting tale of the Batavia is ably communicated via these pages.

This book was read as part of the TBR Challenge 2014, details here.

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