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I Am Rembrandt's Daughter

Review

I Am Rembrandt's Daughter

Soon-to-be 14-year-old Cornelia van Rijn is having a rough time. Her beloved mother died of the plague a few years ago, and one of the only other meager suppliers of smiles in her life --- her lighthearted brother --- announces that he’s getting married. This will leave Cornelia home alone with her grumpy, demanding father. Some might find her lucky to have such a famous and talented parent, the artist Rembrandt, despite the fact that he never married her mom, which caused a bit of a shocking conflict in late-1600s Amsterdam.

Cornelia, however, doesn’t feel fortunate at all. Over the past few years, Rembrandt’s paintings have lost their popularity; as he refuses to change his techniques, he has few buyers of his work. Rumors even float around that he is losing his sanity. Almost penniless and forced to move, only one of his students continues to study under him --- the serious and quiet Neel. Everyday he comes to learn from Rembrandt, and his small payment allows the family to scrape enough together to barely survive. But Cornelia thinks he’s boring and tries to ignore him.

With so few people to talk to, Cornelia finds herself very lonely. When she was younger, she looked forward to seeing the stranger with the golden mustache walk by their home. He had a pleasant smile, and they shared a special gesture to say hello. But he also has disappeared from her life. At least she still has her loyal cat to keep her company.

Cornelia also regrets the huge distance Rembrandt has placed between them. She longs for the easy and close relationship he and her brother share. Rembrandt has often painted her brother, but not once has he painted her. She also finds herself yearning to pick up a brush and attempt painting herself, not just study his work over his shoulder. However, Rembrandt never once offers to teach her. She can never seem to find the courage to talk to him about these topics, so she suffers silently. Then Neel surprises her, suggesting and supporting her dream to paint. Maybe he isn’t so boring and annoying as she once thought.

To add to the misery, more and more cases of sickness are popping up around the city. Many fear that the horrid plague has returned. But then Cornelia finds a new source of smiles --- the handsome and rich Carel. She first notices him at her brother’s wedding, and since then, he makes special efforts to come visit her. She lives for their strolls together along the canals, sharing thoughts on art and issues.

Cornelia tries to ignore the nagging doubt in her gut when she finds out that Carel’s family supplies ships to slave traders. His lack of concern for the slaves’ welfare puts doubt in her mind and heart, yet she pushes it aside. Cornelia dreams that one day they might get married. But when her father discovers how serious she has become, he mysteriously forbids her to see him again, without any explanation as to why. Cornelia refuses to give up the one bright spot in her life and sneaks away to continue seeing Carel.

Then tragedy strikes close to the heart, and Cornelia’s brother falls deathly ill. Could it be the plague? Cornelia desperately reaches out for love and support as she nurses her brother. Who will answer her call?

I AM REMBRANDT'S DAUGHTER is fiction but is closely based on real-life events; almost all of the characters depicted once lived and breathed. Lynn Cullen has woven carefully researched facts together with imaginative page-turning scenes to create a beautiful story. She alternates chapters with flashbacks to Cornelia’s childhood, slowly filling in the confusing gaps that the adults in her life have created for her. Cullen’s eloquent descriptions paint perfect scenes of 17th-century Amsterdam for readers to imagine. A wonderful book

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Reviewed by Chris Shanley-Dillman on October 18, 2011

I Am Rembrandt's Daughter
by Lynn Cullen

  • Publication Date: May 29, 2007
  • Genres: Historical Fiction
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens
  • ISBN-10: 1599900467
  • ISBN-13: 9781599900469