Dance of the Daughters
An amusing and joyful book about four generations of women
Elizabeth Termeer is a clever storyteller. Her most recent book, De dans van de dochters describes the lives of four generations of women, and not for one moment does the reader lose the thread of the story. She skillfully introduces us to the world of the Roozen family, whose history is not without its dramas. Each sentence flows imperceptively into the next, and every paragraph arouses the curiosity of the reader for what is to come. Dialogue alternates with description; flashbacks and flashforwards occur alongside, giving the book its rapid tempo.
The novel acquires its unity through its narrative perspective, which remains the same throughout the book. The family history is told by Sammie, who usually speaks as a headstrong, adolescent fourteen-year-old, and sometimes as the older and wiser woman who has found happiness with her cousin. Through Sammie’s eyes that we see the life of her great-grandmother, who spent much of her life in England where she fell overnight from wealth to poverty. We hear of the train accident in which both grandparents on her father’s side were killed - and shortly after discover that this was not the only fatal accident within the family. She tells us of the many love affairs of her aunts and her sister, and she talks about her father, a teacher who vanished without trace in America during an educational exchange project. Her mother reacted by refusing to leave her bed. Her three daughters must manage on their own - which they find far from easy.
‘Just what do we amount to?’ Sammie’s mother asks, in a moment of reflection, the ‘we’ being the women of the family. It seems as if De dans van de dochters has been written to provide an answer to this very question. Just like Marianne Fredriksson and Jung Chang, Termeer shows us several generations of women in their daily struggle for existence. It is also apparent in De dans van de dochters that life is prone to absurd turns of fate and that the path to women’s independence is strewn with obstacles.Yet Termeer disguises melancholy for a past which can never be recalled with a light touch, which ensures that De dans van de dochters is remembered as an amusing, joyful book.