The Storm, by Margriet de Moor
The Storm, by Margriet de Moor. Translated by Carol Brown Janeway. Knopf, 2007.
Dutch Literature Month, hosted by Iris @ irisonbooks.
A haunting Dutch novel in which two sister temporarily exchange places only to be permanently torn apart when a massive storm intervenes.
Armanda and Lidy are sisters in their early twenties when they decide to take each other’s place for a day. Armanda stays home and attends a party with Lidy’s husband, while Lidy takes her place at a birthday celebration in a small town in Zeeland. A freak storm sweeps in, as it did historically in 1953, causing major destruction, and Lidy never returns. In alternating chapters, the book follows both women. Armanda is racked with conflicting emotions. Eventually she marries Lidy’s husband and raises Lidy’s daughter. In the years ahead she continued to feel that she is living Lidy’s life rather than her own. Lidy is caught up in the storm, and the book follows her closely through the first days and nights of the chaos it creates. Because she has a car, she becomes involved in trying to help local residents check out the dikes and find refuge when there is none to be had. Her former life is quickly forgotten in the urgency of the storm.
Margriet de Moor is an excellent writer capable of imaginatively depicting her characters’ emotions and the sheer immensity of the wind and water that strikes Zeeland. At first I was slow to warm to Armanda and Lidy, but the more I read the more I empathized with both of them. This was the first book I had read about the Netherlands, and I was somewhat disoriented by the many names of places that de Moor enumerated as Lidy faced the storm. Finally I went on Goggle Earth and grasped some basic geography and realized just how omnipresent water is there. Zeeland, the province in the southwest part of the Netherlands, was the worst hit in the storm. It is primarily contains islands with canals opening into the North Sea. When the storm hit, the canals channeled wind and water straight into the heart of the country that had been drained for farmland. Today’s maps show how earthworks built since the 1953 flooding protect the region.
Reading about such random and unexpected destruction in The Storm was unnerving to me. I have never read anything that paid such close attention to the people facing a major catastrophe. As I read, I experienced all sorts of overtones of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and Hurricane Sandy in New York City last year. Like the freak weather we are now experiencing as the climate warms, the storm was both familiar and unbelievably gigantic. The book was a reminder that however much we want security, we can never be sure we are completely safe. As the climate changes, we can all expect more storms like the one that de Moor describes.
I recommend this book for readers interested in how we live with disasters, for those interested in the Netherlands, and for those who enjoy exciting and well-told stories.