The Occupied Garden is the powerful true story of a market gardener and his fiercely devout wife who were living a simple life in Holland when the Nazis invaded in 1940. During the subsequent occupation, Gerrit and Cor den Hartog struggled to keep their young family from starving and from being broken up in an era of intimidation, disappearances, and bombings -- until one devastating day when they found they were unable to protect their children from the war.
It wasn’t until long after Gerrit and Cor’s deaths that their granddaughters began to piece their story together; combing through Dutch archives, family lore, and a neighbor’s wartime diary, den Hartog and Kasaboski have lovingly and seamlessly recreated their grandparents’ wartime years. The result is an extraordinary tale of strife and hardship that contains moments of breathtaking courage -- a young mother’s bicycle journey of two hundred miles to find food for her children, a brother and sister’s desperate escape into unoccupied France, a pastor forced into hiding for encouraging acts of resistance -- with a cast of characters that includes the exiled Dutch royal family, Adolf Hitler, Franklin Roosevelt, and Winston Churchill. But it is Gerrit and Cor who take center stage in what is ultimately a deeply moving love story of a man and woman who drew strength from each other throughout those difficult years.
Poignant and unforgettable, The Occupied Garden is a testament to the resiliency of ordinary people living in an extraordinary time, written by two sisters determined to keep their family history alive.
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KRISTEN DEN HARTOG is a critically acclaimed novelist who has been called “a sort of literary younger sister to Alice Munro” (Quill & Quire). She is the author of Water Wings, The Perpetual Ending, and Origin of Haloes. The Occupied Garden, her first work of nonfiction, was written with her older sister, TRACY KASABOSKI, who was born in Rotterdam and first inspired den Hartog years ago with her own dramatic childhood stories.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Chapter OneTwilight 1927–1940 For all the years after the war, Gerrit dreamed – sporadically, without warning – of being chased by German soldiers with guns, but back in the crisp winter of 1927, as he skated on a willow- rimmed pond in South Holland, he had no such demons. Warm in his wool cap and coat, he sped along under a cloudless sky, breath pluming in the bright winter air, his plaid scarf flapping behind him. He had just turned eighteen, and his life would change in moments. On either side of him, the flat landscape of Overschie stretched into the distance, and underneath the snow, bulbs lay in wait for spring. Gerrit loved spring, a time of beginnings, but at this point he still loved winter too. He was an exceptional skater, and stood out even here in the Netherlands, where skating and bicycling came almost as naturally as walking. He’d never have boasted, but his skates cost more than he could afford: long metal blades that locked on to black boots, they were fancier than the wooden tie- on kind most people wore. Savouring hot anise milk under a tent on the ice, a slender young woman watched him go by, noticing both the skates and his accomplished style. Gerrit caught her eye but looked quickly away, red as beetroot. She smiled, and admired his languid figure eights as he skated backwards, then forwards again, and glided off, pushing from side to side with grace and agility, his hands clasped behind his back. She sipped her rich, sweet milk, and had turned to say something to the young couple with her, a woman and an uncommonly tall man gobbling almond cake, when suddenly Gerrit appeared again in her peripheral vision. Without seeming to watch him, she saw his every move as he made his way towards her and away, and towards her again. Her heart raced under two sweaters and a heavy blue coat, and she pulled the collar close around her neck and shivered. She knew the blue was lovely with her eyes – a blue like cornflowers – and while there would come a time when she’d stop thinking about such things, it was far away from this moment, when she was still young and attractive, freshly aware of her new admirer. She lifted her head and looked at him. From the side, anyone could see how they matched; how their noses must have pulled them together – strong, bony noses of equal character, ready to be passed down through the generations. The den Hartogs hailed from the Alblasserwaard region of the Netherlands, a large rural stretch east of Rotterdam, and bordered by wide rivers that continually overflowed their banks. As a child, Gerrit’s playmates were the squelching mud and the moving waters of the river Lek, though he never learned to swim. He was the youngest of three children – he had a sister, Marrigje, and a brother, Nico. His father Rochus had once been a salmon fisherman, and his back was bowed from years of hauling the heavy nets, and pulling barges as he walked the canal’s narrow footpath. Gerrit’s mother Arigje hated fish – the taste, the smell, the slipperiness – and was glad enough when Rochus became a tuinders knecht, or gardener’s hired man. It was a fine job in the provinces of North and South Holland, which grew most of the fruit and vegetables for the country, and Rochus taught their sons the same trade, moving the family from village to village as opportunities arose. Gerrit was twelve when he left school and apprenticed with his father and brother as a tuindersknecht. Kneeling among the plants, the smell of the turned soil in his nostrils, he felt more at ease here than he ever had in a classroom, though he was already curious about the world and enjoyed reading. It didn’t hurt that the tuinder, Willem Quartel, had a son Gerrit’s age, called Jaap, and the boys became friends. They were close in stature and both had open, friendly faces and easy smiles, so were more often mistaken for brothers than wiry Gerrit and the heavy- set Nico. Vegetable gardening was an honest trade, but like fishing, dependent on the whims of the buyer. The vegetables were sold at an auction house to which the tuinders belonged as part of a co- operative, and middle men sat on bleachers surveying the produce as it floated past them on barges. A big clock hung on the wall, counting down the time that the buyers had to make a bid. If they liked what they saw, they bought, and if they didn’t, the co- operative paid the tuinder a minimum amount and gave the vegetables to the cows. It was a living – sufficient in Rochus’s eyes. He was a modest man, devoted to his wife and proud of his three children. Arigje thought the income of a tuindersknecht meagre, and her husband’s contentment with their life was a source of irritation for her. She loved fine things and kept bits of ribbon and lace tucked away in a drawer, as if one day there might be room for them in this life she hadn’t chosen. The marriage, while not unhappy, was somewhat lopsided, in that Rochus loved Arigje from the beginning, and Arigje came to love Rochus over the years – he’d been her second choice, when her first fiancé changed his mind, and the disappointment never quite left her. In spite of Rochus’s devotion to her, she was a severe woman who ran her household and the lives of her family with more than the necessary diligence. His parents, of course, were Gerrit’s precedent for marriage, and unwittingly he gravitated towards a woman whose backbone rivalled his mother’s. Like Rochus, who escaped his wife’s displeasure in the world of books, Gerrit was an avid reader, and when his queries about Cor revealed that her family, the Posts, owned a bookshop on the Zestienhovensekade in Overschie, he became a regular, if nervous, customer, doing his best to peer intently at the neat rows of books, to choose one that might especially impress, but all the while trying to keep his eyes from darting around for her, a small young woman with sharp features and a quick step, always busy. Sometimes it was her older sister Truus, plump and dark- haired, running the shop – the same girl who’d been skating with Cor that day on the pond – and Gerrit’s disappointment showed on his face, until Truus called, "Co- or!" And Cor would appear, while Truus slipped away. Gerrit passed her his selections, aware of his rough hands and her smooth ones as she wrapped the books in brown paper. A year after they met, Gerrit’s family moved again for work, this time several towns away to Leidschendam, a community with roots in the fourteenth century, situated on the perimeter of The Hague, where the queen sometimes resided. Once, twenty windmills had pumped water off the land on the outskirts of town, drying it and creating the flat, green fields called polders. Now, only three mills were needed to do the job, and the polders provided fertile pasture for grazing and farming. Renting land at the edge of the Tedingerbroekpolder, along the tracks that ran from Rotterdam to The Hague, the den Hartogs became self- employed gardeners rather than hired help. But each week, Gerrit made the trip back to Overschie, near Rotterdam, on his bicycle or skates, braving not just the weather but Cor’s close- knit family: Truus and the little sister Maria, brothers Gerry and Tom, and parents Neeltje and Jacobus. In winter, he knew the villages by their church steeples, each one different, and counted them as he zipped by on his fine steel skates. Through open barn doors, he glimpsed farmers milking cows or feeding their pigs. Dogs raced to the edge of the canal to bark at him. In summer, horse- drawn carts clattered over brick streets, and on his bicycle Gerrit pedalled around them, calling a greeting and lifting his cap. Finally, Overschie, where Truus’s towering fiancé Jacques, who claimed aristocratic ancestry, laughed and said, "Hier komt de boerenjongen" – Here comes the country lad – at the sight of skinny Gerrit hurrying towards Cor with his worn pants tucked into his knee socks, face shining with anticipation. Each of them came from a long line of Gerrits and Cornelias. The Posts and the den Hartogs followed the Dutch custom of naming the first child after one of the father’s parents, the second after one of the mother’s, and so on, and if a child died – an all too common occurrence in those days – the next to come along took the same name again. Thus names cycled through family trees in a repetitive, ever-increasing spiral. Traditions like this were important, and respected, within both the home and the larger nation, and they carried through to the army – little more than a patriotic display – where enlistment was mandatory. And so with other young men following in the footsteps of previous generations, Gerrit acquired his army training at nineteen, proud of his uniform and his part in the custom. A photograph from this time shows him posing on the Post balcony in Overschie, the clay tile roof slanting beside him. He wears his soldier’s uniform, the hat tall and boxy with a small visor, the high- collared jacket extending to his thighs and closing snugly with showy buttons. Cor stands beside him; fine- boned, slim-waisted, she rises just past his shoulder. Their arms link – as in the wedding portrait yet to be taken – and she gazes at him rather than the camera. In this rare, candid shot, Cor looks happy, and even somewhat coy, with her foot placed forward and her skirt swinging. Gerrit in all his finery leans into Cor and stares at the lens, his hat doubling the size of his head. Below, the canal waters form a ribbon through the busy town. So close to Rotterdam, Overschie would be blackened by the explosions’ clouds six years hence, but at this time, no one suspected Gerrit would actually wear his fine uniform in combat. Their engagement ran alongside the Depression, called the "crisis years" in Holland, a period preceded by mounting economic strain that stemmed from the Great War. The Netherlands had stayed neutral, and so hadn’t the debts that other countries accumulated through battle, but Germany was its major trading partner, and its economic collapse burdened the Netherlands. Early in Cor and Gerrit’s engagement, social unrest was brewing, and long queues of the unemployed reporting for assistance were a common sight. Both the Posts and the den Hartogs had money troubles – Gerrit’s family had more vegetables than they could eat, but little else, and Cor’s had only books upon books, and the thread to bind them – so the couple was urged to postpone their marriage until they could make a proper start. Gerrit continued to grow vegetables with his father and brother in Leidschendam, and several times a week, a barge arrived, pulled by men who looked like Gerrit’s stooped father. Once the crates of vegetables were loaded, one man pulled the barge with a pole, as Gerrit’s father had in his fishing days, while a second jumped aboard and pushed his pole through the water; together they steered the yield to auction. More often than not there was a glut of produce and too few buyers. As in Overschie, the unsold vegetables – termed doorgedraaid, or "turned through" – went to the cows, or got tossed on a heap where they rotted back into compost. As compensation, the auction house gave the growers one cent for every head of lettuce thrown away. When Gerrit’s brother Nico married, it was obvious the tuin couldn’t support the family he’d start, so he moved to nearby Voorburg and got work as a mailman and part-time janitor at the Christian Emmaschool. Unlike the den Hartogs, the Post family had roots in Overschie that went back more than a century. Cor’s opa had been a carpenter, and her father a house painter, on occasion taking big jobs like the painting of canal bridges in Overschie, but the fumes strained his asthmatic lungs and he had to quit, so the bookstore and binding shop upstairs provided the family’s main income. Cor and Truus also ran a library, charging a small fee for borrowing. Both the store and the library emphasized religious books, which was all Cor read, but Gerrit’s tastes spread wider. He read everything he could about plants and flowers, about far- flung places, and travelling by plane above the clouds. By 1931, Gerrit’s sister Marrigje, called Mar, had already married, and that year Truus did too. Cor and Gerrit assumed they would be next, since they’d been engaged several years now, but their parents continued to dissuade them. As the years crept by, Truus and Mar started families, but nothing changed for Cor and Gerrit. The couple grew frustrated, and suspected more than money lay at the centre of their families’ objections. The den Hartogs were members of the Nederlands Hervormde Kerk, or Dutch Reformed Church, to which Queen Wilhelmina belonged, and the Posts were devoted to its stricter offshoot, the Gereformeerde Kerk, which had returned to the name used by the religion in Reformation times. Both Churches were rooted in the Calvinist tradition, but the Gereformeerde denomination of the Posts was dedicated to a rigid dogmatic interpretation of the Bible, while the Hervormde denomination of the den Hartogs put more emphasis on the grace and beauty of God’s word, honouring its mystery. Cor was descended from a founder of the breakaway faction, and religion was paramount in the Post family. Among them, she in particular had an analytical approach to the Bible, and a natural intelligence, and those two traits combined made her fierce in her belief, rather than calmly faithful, like Gerrit. Yet in spite of the Posts’ dour Calvinism, laughter floated in Cor’s home, usually instigated by Truus or brother Gerry, who could both find humour in almost any situation. Once, Cor, Truus, and Maria practised a tableau vivant for their church’s Christmas celebrations – the still poses the closest thing to drama Calvinists would allow themselves to enjoy. Cor stood draped in a white sheet, arms raised, embodying Faith; Maria knelt beside her as Charity. Truus, representing Hope, stood similarly clad, head turned sharply towards her sisters, chin lifted. Cor watched the clock on the wall, seeing the second hand tick, wondering how long they could hold the pose this time, for so far they’d not done very well. From the corner of her eye she saw Truus’s eyes bulge and cheeks balloon as she held her breath as well as her pose, and then the three collapsed in hysteria, sheets puddling around them. The den Hartogs were a less boisterous lot, sister Mar kind and soft-spoken like Gerrit, and brother Nico slow and plodding, in Cor’s view. But religion was equally important in their family, and Gerrit sang in the choir of the Hervormde church he attended with his parents, where men and women sat on opposite sides. Cor went once, feeling awkward and out of place, everyone staring at the obvious outsider as she entered with Gerrit’s parents. Rochus offered her a small reassuring smile, but Arigje looked straight ahead, giving nothing. In Dutch society, known for both racial and religious tolerance, a loose, voluntary segregation determined which butcher, green grocer, and milkman people patronized, so a Catholic housewife bought milk from a Catholic milkman, and a Hervormde boy married a Hervormde girl. Sitting beside Gerrit’s mother, Cor felt her disdain and sent a sliver of it back. The women had not warmed to each other over the eight- year engagement – Cor li...
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Book Description McClelland and Stewart, 2008. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. Never used!. Bookseller Inventory # P110771026226
Book Description McClelland and Stewart, 2008. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. Bookseller Inventory # DADAX0771026226