The Occupied Garden

the occupied garden pb

(A new version of The Occupied Garden is in the works! Watch this space for details.)

Our first collaboration, The Occupied Garden: A Family Memoir of War-Torn Holland, was published to critical acclaim in 2008, and we still hear from readers who are moved by this intimate account. The book tells the story of our father’s family in the Netherlands during WW2 — though it also tells the story of the Netherlands in WW2 through the lens of our father’s family. In other words (just like The Cowkeeper’s Wish) it’s both a family chronicle and a form of social history.

Gathering the childhood memories of our father and his four siblings, and piecing together what they and their parents and wider country endured, was a rewarding experience for us as writers — not to mention as daughters of one of the main characters, and sisters to each other. It moved us enough to lift our pens again and look to our mother’s side, to see what tales lurked there that might need telling.

It makes us incredibly happy that readers of The Cowkeeper’s Wish are telling us they’ve also picked up The Occupied Garden. The two are very different stories, and so required different forms of telling: The Cowkeeper’s Wish goes back such a long way that the majority of our characters were unknown to us and to anyone living. And since we wanted to write an evidence-based book, we had to dig well past the family archive to tell our ancestors’ story.

The Occupied Garden, though, is set in one specific period, and follows a family through their wartime ordeals and their postwar lives as new immigrants.

Our opa with Rige in the garden

Most of our “characters” were still alive when we began our work, so we could ask them about their memories, and look through old photos with them, and even bring them along on our research trips — new discoveries for us, and rediscoveries for them. All of them were eager to contribute to our work, and curious to revisit their own childhoods this way. The hurdles for us, in writing this book, were really the language barrier and the cultural differences, and the worries that always crop up when you tell someone else’s stories and they are still around to read your version. Though we needn’t have worried. The family loved the finished book. And so did many strangers. So did we, of course. Which was why we decided to do it all over again with The Cowkeeper’s Wish.

Our oma Cor with baby Rokus about 1940

“The authors interpret so harmoniously, are so guided by respect and common sense, that these reconstructed lives just hum with authenticity.” Read Ernest Hillen’s Globe and Mail review of The Occupied Garden here.

“This is intimate history: the writers recover not only the facts, but the tastes, smells, and lived experiences of events that today almost defy belief.” Read Maureen Garvie’s Quill & Quire review of The Occupied Garden here.