Introducing FOUR Strong Women!
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Since this piece of historical fiction is “dedicated to all the women who keep on fighting,” it’s not surprising for it to carry two intertwined stories about strong women. The first woman is modern-day Emsley Wilson. The second is Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, the widow of Vincent van Gogh’s brother, Theo.
In the modern story, Emsley is a business owner. “Her niche auction house, Ludington’s, handled political fundraisers, focusing exclusively on Hollywood celebrity donors.” Her dream is to branch out into benefit auctions to raise money for stroke research. Why this charity? Because her beloved grandmother, Violet Velar, “the Artist, the Diva, the toast of New York,” had been felled by a stroke.
The historical tale covers the death of Vincent van Gogh, and soon after, the death of his brother and champion, Theo. Johanna is left alone with a small child and all of her brother-in-law’s artwork, which was not well received at the time. It was up to her to fight for showings of his work and ultimately, to make him successful (posthumously) as an artist.
In a note at the end of the book, the author tells us that writing her manuscript involved copious research because Johanna’s diaries had been locked away by her decedents. They granted access to no one, not even academic researchers. Thus, Johanna’s story was gleaned bit by bit via alternate sources. In a painful twist of fate for the author, soon after the completion of the book, Johanna’s diaries were made public and put online. They are currently available for free, in English, in an easy to search format.
As the book opens, Violet has shown Emsley a mysterious blue box. It contains a journal written in English and a stack of letters written in Dutch. The authors of these works are not mentioned. Violet tells Emsley to read the diary and then come back so they can discuss it. But before the discussion takes place, Violet passes away. So, questions are rampant. Who wrote these documents? Who can translate the letters? What do they say? As readers, we are sure they will tie the modern day and historical stories together, but how?
Meanwhile, Emsley has more problems than just the mystery box. Namely, her business partner – and relationship partner – Trey, has left her and wants to break up the business as well. Various friends of Violet’s come to Emsley’s rescue as she decides to open a New York branch of her business. One of the people helping her is Bram Dekker, the grandson of Violet’s attorney. Of course, a romance ensues.
A romance, really? Well, if we circle back to that note at the end of the book, we learn that the author, Marta Molnar, has written many romance novels under the pen name Dana Marton. I am thinking it was easy to slip into that style in the chapters about Emsley and Bram.
A final item of interest in the author’s notes is the fact that she got a great agent for her work and twenty publishers were interested in the book! But one by one they rejected the project. Perhaps this was due to the sudden availability of Johanna’s actual diaries. Whatever the case, in the end, the author self-published. On Amazon, the book has more than 4000 ratings which makes it quite a success.
Thus, as we revisit the book’s dedication, there are many strong women to honor in this book – Emsley, Violet, Johanna, and Marta Molnar.