Recommended by the Reviewers Club

The Naturalist of Amsterdam, by Melissa Ashley

Cover of The Naturalist of Amsterdam, by Melissa Ashley.

A remarkable book set in 1650, about one of the world’s first female ecologists. Historical fiction novel based on the true story of Maria Sibyilla Merian, one of the greatest naturalists in Europe. She collected species of insects and kept them to study their life cycles. She carefully illustrated them using art mediums such as oils and watercolours derived from various ingredients which were difficult to attain at that time. Maria created world famous publications with her illustrations and drawings. After her death, they were heavily sought after by wealthy figures including the Russian Tzar.

The story begins with Maria and her daughters living in a Labadist’s community. The Labadist’s were a 17th century Protestant religious community movement founded by Jean de Labadie (1610-1674), a French pietist (Lithuanist and Christian). Maria then makes the decision to take her family to South America to collect insect species. They then return to Amsterdam and begin to make a working life there publishing her naturalist books.

Her younger daughter takes the main characters here as both her daughter and then husband become deceased, and finally her mother. She is then left to decide her own future. She is now also an extremely talented Naturaliste having been by her mother’s side since she was a child, but never truly committing herself to the full extent of her own artistic talents until now. She has to make a decision to carry on her mother’s legacy or command her own life utilising her own learnt talents.

Absolutely love this story. The writing is poetic on every page. The author perfectly captures the imagery of the illustration’s colours and textures with her writing. The history is of that time is also fascinating.

4.2/5 Stars