The Naturalist of Amsterdam by Melissa Ashley (Hardcover) – Our Review


Our Review…

Set around the turn of the 18th century, this spectacular novel deftly draws the reader into the life of one of Europe’s most brilliant naturalists, Maria Sibylla Merian.

Amsterdam was at the centre of an intellectual revolution. Maria’s reputation was growing but she was restless, fired with a determination to explore the treasure trove of plants and insects she’d heard tales of in Suriname- a Dutch colony in the Americas.

An assistant was needed for this undertaking and with some trepidation her daughter Dorothea agreed to accompany her mother on what was to become an extraordinary mission.

The Metamorphosis of the Insects of Suriname – produced on Maria’s return – was greeted as a masterpiece, cementing her reputation as one of Europe’s brightest. Ironically this created a burden for her dutiful daughter who felt obligated to continue her mother’s legacy.

Ashley’s meticulous descriptions of European artistic, cultural and scientific life are fascinating, but it is Maria and Dorothea’s relationship that is central to the story. Bound to each other by a shared commitment to Maria’s genius and their singular aloneness, the two women together face tragedy, loss, adventure, and the challenge of surviving in a world of cut throat male competitors.

A feast for the senses, the descriptions of exotic plant and animal life are voluptuous, as are the illustrations, designs and art works Maria and her daughter produced.  An unexpected bonus for me has been the even greater sense of wonder in nature that this novel inspired. A gift indeed!

Review by Rosi Lever @ Great Escape Books Patron