The Butterfly Artist
When Maria Merian, an artist and the seventeenth-century’s foremost expert on butterfly metamorphosis, joins The Labadists, an extreme religious sect, to keep herself and her daughters safe from accusations of witchcraft, she sees a pinned blue butterfly sent from their outpost in the Suriname rainforest and vows to find it in the wild, but a decade later, when she and her daughter, Thea, go to the Dutch sugar colony, their quest for the blue butterfly leads instead to unforgettable realizations about motherly love and colonial violence.
Based on the true story of a little-known but extraordinary woman and full of lush evocations of the rainforest and its creatures, The Butterfly Artist explores many themes relevant today: women’s struggles against social expectations; mother-daughter relationships; relationships between indigenous and foreign, colonizer and colonized; the dependence of art and science on abuse.
Readers of Lauren Groff’s Matrix: A Novel, Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder, Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet, and Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things will love this book.
The remote northwest of nineteenth-century Iceland is no place for Helga, a free-thinking little girl who yearns to read, write stories, and escape a life bound by tradition. Helga lives with eight others in a tiny one room cottage. Hard labor gets them through freezing winters and demanding summers. Despite a psychologically abusive father and harsh physical conditions, the precocious young Helga finds solace in the love of her twin sister Inga and the encouragement of her mother who teaches her to find strength in the adventures of strong Icelandic goddesses.
When she is only seven, Helga’s beloved mother dies, leaving her a message she’ll never forget in a bound book of blank pages: Create your own life. Fly like a bird escaping winter. Soon after her mother’s death, Helga’s father who has taken up with the housemaid and fathered another child, sends her away from her twin to live alone as a pauper on a distant farm. Thus begins a physical, emotional, and intellectual journey in which Helga fights not only for survival, but for liberty of thought and choice.
Once out of servitude, Helga travels from Iceland to a pioneer community in the Dakota Territory, and eventually to Seattle. She records her story in the book her mother gave her as she leaves the familiar behind, time and again, for a better, freer existence. She becomes a mother and a writer, suffers devastating heartbreak, finds more than one kind of love, learns a profound appreciation of the natural world – birds, especially -- faces numerous brushes with death, and ultimately is embroiled in a life-changing battle over the position of women vs. the ideas of men and the church.
A poignant, atmospheric story with strong book-club appeal, MIGRATIONS is the first in a potential trilogy tracing three generations of women, akin to Jane Smiley’s The Last Hundred Years Trilogy. Comparable to BURIAL RITES by Hannah Kent, THE THIRTEENTH TALE by Diane Setterfield, and Kiran Millwood Hargrave’s THE MERCIES with vivid tones of Annie Proulx, MIGRATIONS explores how the power of having choice and vesting change can lead to transformative self-discoveries as Helga travels from desolation to the place she really belongs.