By: Ellin Carsta
Genre: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4 Stars
Cologne, 1351: Elisabeth and Stephen Hardenstein are twins, but they could not be more different. While Elisabeth is inspired by the family business, absorbing everything her father shows her about the cloth trade, Stephen enjoys a leisurely life and pays little attention to their father’s teachings. Elisabeth recognizes her true vocation as a tradeswoman, and though the odds are stacked against her, she pursues her passion.
When the twins’ father suffers a tragic stroke, the tables turn. Suddenly Stephen is interested in running the draper’s shop his father left behind, and he takes the lead in managing the family business. But Elisabeth can’t sit idly by and watch as he makes bad decisions and accumulates debts. Stephen pushes her to marry as soon as possible, even proposing a suitor, but Elisabeth has her own ideas about matters of the heart. Are her talents in the art of negotiation enough to win her both the job of her dreams and the man she truly loves?
I just finished this amazing novel and am on a total girl power high! This isn't the first German novel translated into English I have read, and each time I do it makes me want to learn to at least read the language even more. I love German novels and story telling.
Carsta does a great job of pulling me into 1300's Germany - the details of the terrible pogroms, the plague that still goes around, the medieval views of depression and women's place - they all combine to set the tone for Carsta's story in Cologne. Elizabeth is amazing. She is strong, she is kind, she tries over and over and keeps getting set back. (I feel sorry for my coworkers as they watch me read. They could tell there were times when I just wanted to yell at Elizabeth "Don't do the thing, that is a bad thing, don't do the thing!" But they are great sports and only teased me about it a little bit.) She deals with misogyny, with slut-shaming, with actual physical assault to her person, but she comes through. She comes through wiser for it. I want to be Elizabeth when I grow up.
Another point I loved - the interplay between Christian and Jew, especially in a business setting was great to see. We are in a world of rising tensions between any groups who are viewed as "other" and more often need to emphasize there is more that pulls us together than tears us apart. This was true between business women centuries ago and it is true between all of us today. Part of me wishes that more was spent in their relationship (and maybe there was in the German version...I really need to learn to read this language!) but I am content with the glimpse that we got.
The only bit that I wish was different **Spoilers, click and highlight between the asterisks to read** was that she ended up with her Notary at the end of the novel. Let her stick with her mantra of looking to the future rather than pining for the past. She could have continued on with her business, known that she would always have amazing contracts (typically skewed to her favor) and a husband who was her business equal. I would have loved to have that move forward rather than going back to Raphael her girlhood love. ***Spoilers over
All in all I love it. I think this is a book I could come back to - it's definitely one I have on my "to read in German when I learn how" shelf and I will be finding more to read from this author. Also, something practical I took away from this - get things in writing, always get things in writing. Anyway, go give it a try, I bet you'll enjoy it.
Thank you Netgalley for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.