Summary and book reviews of A Heart of Stone by Renate Dorrestein

A Heart of Stone

By Renate Dorrestein

A Heart of Stone
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  • Hardcover: Jan 2001,
    256 pages.
    Paperback: Jan 2002,
    256 pages.

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Book Summary

Renate Dorrestein is that rare storyteller who dazzles critics and captivates readers.

Provocative, stylish, and emotionally resonant, A Heart of Stone (her first book to be translated into English) is certain to cause a sensation on the international scene and Viking is proud to introduce her to the American public. This beautifully woven masterpiece, spare yet richly told, plumbs the undercurrents of family life and tragedy in a startling and wise story of love, fate, and survival.

Ellen Van Bemmel lives with her parents, who run an American news-clipping service, and her three siblings in an old Dutch house in a suburb of Amsterdam. Ellen's idyllic childhood is suffused with Americana, both the frivolous fringes like potato chips and Coca-Cola as well as milestones like Neil Armstrong's first steps on the moon, until family disaster strikes on her twelfth birthday. From that moment on her world begins to unravel.

Years later, Ellen plunges us into the past as she leafs through a faded photo album and confronts the literal and figurative ghosts of her childhood. Seamlessly alternating the past and present, taut with Hitchcockian tension and warmed by a redemptive love story, A Heart of Stone tells a darkly humorous, yet ultimately compassionate tale.

College Years, Autumn 1956 or 1957

There were already four of us by the time Ida arrived, on an unusually cold summer's night. Thanks to a nearly full moon, it was still so bright out at two a.m. that we could count the freckles on each other's noses. We had vowed not to go to sleep until we'd heard the new baby's first cry. We had taken chips and Cokes up to our attic bedroom and had put on our warmest flannel pajamas.

I had made myself a comfy nest on Kester's bed with a stack of pillows. To kill time, he and I were reading a Batman comic book together. He would give me a soft poke in the ribs when it was time to turn the page. Our sister Billie, at her usual post in front of the mirror by the clothes closet, was engrossed in snipping off the split ends of her long black hair with nail scissors. And Carlos was on his feet in his crib crooning with excitement, groggy with sleep, his tummy bulging over his drooping diaper. We called him Carlos because as ...

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Introduction

Like many of the most powerful novels written over the last thirty years, A Heart of Stone is a tender yet haunting coming-of-age story that explores the complex emotional legacy that family life bequeaths to the individual. But Renate Dorrestein offers a new and strange perspective by showing how even the happiest of families can both suffer and inflict terrible devastation—and how an imperfect and amazingly strong girl manages to survive the most horrible of family tragedies while retaining both her sanity and her spark for life.

The van Bemmels do not seem to be dysfunctional in the ways readers of contemporary fiction have come to expect. In fact, they appear to be a normal, warmly affectionate, emotionally ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews
London Times

Elegantly chilling...beautifully written.

Wall Street Journal

...seamlessly executed...an intuitive sense of suspense...keeps the reader off balance to the end.

Publisher's Weekly

Dorrestein's first novel to be translated into English is a riveting psychological thriller that rates comparison with Shirley Jackson's classic, We Have Always Lived in the Castle.

Kirkus Reviews

The history of a destroyed family and the mingled guilt and rage that possess the survivor who remembers, and reimagines, their story—all rendered with hallucinatory clarity in this first English translation of yet another popular and critically acclaimed Dutch author..... The climactic pages are as harrowing as anything in contemporary fiction, but you won't want to miss a word leading up to them. A triumph.

Time Magazine

A stunning novel about the scorching legacy of loss...fresh and hauntingly familiar.

Reader Reviews
Rita

A heart of stone -short review
This book reveals the journey of a middle aged woman in the past, to face her tragic childhood that changed her life once and for all.It also shows how over the years, she has tried to escape form her "nightmare", but her family photo album...   Read More

Ashley

I felt this book was extremely moving. The intense love between parents provides a distraction from their children, but the love of a mother for her daughter provides an excuse for murder. Dorrestein is very capable of making readers sit open-...   Read More

j.walker

i wasnt really a book reader but a freind told me it was a book i had to read ,so i went and bought it.and i could not put it down untill i had finished the chapter but even then i had to carry on just to make sure things were okay , it was very ...   Read More

Anonymous

A beautifully written book that keeps the reader on edge until the last chapter. Her writing technique of just allowing enought information to keep you titilated until the end. I would recommend it to friends and book clubs.

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