Das falsche Herz des Meeres
(The Treacherous Heart of the Sea)
cbj Verlag, July 2006, 384 pp
First things first: this book is a real treat, exciting, great fun, brilliantly descriptive - in short a page-turner. It has all the ingredients a great fairytale needs, a historical setting (the years 1854 to 1858), action that ranges from a bleak Frisian island to a palace in Rabat and a silk business in Venice, and, above all, an evocation of the sea in all its ways and moods.
The story begins when fourteen-year-old Leevke Magnusson and her handicapped younger sister Ebba have to move in with mean and grasping foster parents after their mother has died giving birth to a baby boy and their father, the captain of a whaling ship, is thought to have been lost at sea. Escaping from unpleasant - including sexual - threats at home, our feisty heroine finds herself a temporary captive on a Moroccan trading vessel, and with her best friend Johanna (who turns out not to be her best friend) lands up in Rabat, having personally steered the ship into harbour when the crew are disabled by illness. On the way she has encountered our hero, a handsome young Moroccan named Hanrib el Aniil. He is in his early twenties, which seems a big age gap at Leevke's time of life, but staying in his scholarly brother's palace in Rabat she picks up a good deal of Arabic to add to her seafaring lore and next thing she is in Venice, making a great success of an entirely new way of life. There is a lot of mutual misunderstanding as well as much further excitement before the two young people are finally united in marriage and, back at home in Wangerooge, all that was bad is turned to good.
In spite of its setting a century and a half ago, this is a coming of age novel of a thoroughly modern sort. Disease is not shirked - measles, chickenpox and syphilis (which the disreputable Johanna contracts) all feature. The teasing relationship of hero and heroine is handled without sentimentality, indeed with wit. And the author's research, extremely thorough yet never obtrusive, gives ballast to the whole book. Here indeed is a splendid read, and a success on every front.