Tag Archives: 1800s Philadelphia

Book Buzz: Lilli de Jong

Book Buzz: Lilli de Jong

Before the current political upheaval in our country, the phrase “she persisted” might not have carried much weight. But now it has taken on an iconic meaning, representing the uphill battle women face when advocating for their right to be heard.

Book Buzz: Lilli de Jong

This struggle persists, as does our rebellion.

Lilli de Jong

As I read Janet Benton’s absorbing new novel, Lilli de Jong, I kept thinking that the eponymous Lilli, thrust into a fight for her survival, might have demurred at the idea of being a persister, but indeed her struggles in an unyielding world required every ounce of persistence one could muster.

At a time when having a child out of wedlock branded the mother — and the child — in the most cruel and unforgiving way, Lilli discovers she is pregnant and has nowhere to turn. The father of the child was unaware of the pregnancy before he moved across the state for a better job opportunity. Lilli lost her beloved mother due to an accident, and her father brought shame to the family by taking up with a first cousin afterwards. Because of that, Lilli has lost her job as a teacher. She is frighteningly alone.

Raised in the Society of Friends, more commonly known as Quakers, Lilli is an educated, purposeful young woman, and now is banished from the order.

Unwed pregnant women in those days had few options. Back alley abortions often resulted in the mother’s death. Keeping the baby meant a lifetime of shame for both mother and child. Giving a child up for adoption could be too heart wrenching to consider. Fathers shirked their responsibilities without fear of retribution.

Lilli decides to leave home to have her baby at an institution for unwed mothers and plans to give the baby up. But then, she just can’t.

Set in 1800s Philadelphia, the story is both harrowing and uplifting, because it is about a mother’s unrelenting fight for her child. The fierce bond between mothers and babies, and in particular the mutual nourishment of mothers and their nursing babies, propels the story line.  Lilli’s dogged determination is fueled by the unconditional love and trust of her baby.

I loved the historical background of this story. Having always lived in the Philadelphia region, I enjoyed learning more about this era and recognizing the local landmarks. Though this is a novel, this feels very authentic. In Lilli’s diary form, it reads like a memoir.

Benton has a lovely, engaging writing style and the plot had some unexpected turns. She has given us a glimpse into the past that continues to resonate in the present day. Lilli de Jong is a virtual maternal hug of a novel, that acknowledges the persistence of mothers everywhere.

 

One of my lucky readers will receive a copy of Lilli de Jong. Please leave a comment below and a winner will be randomly selected. US addresses only, please.

I received a copy of Lilli de Jong from Nan A. Talese/Doubleday for an honest review,
which is the only kind of review I write.

 

 

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