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Lilli de Jong: A Novel by Janet Benton

Lilli de Jong: A Novel (edition 2017)

by Janet Benton (Author)

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458256,992 (4.19)2
Title:Lilli de Jong: A Novel
Authors:Janet Benton (Author)
Info:Nan A. Talese (2017), Edition: First Edition, 352 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:Historical Fiction, Motherhood, America, 19th Century

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Lilli de Jong: A Novel by Janet Benton


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The narrator's personal experience of motherhood comes out strongly in this novel - it's no surprise when the author admits in the afterword that the book was partially inspired by her own bonding with her child. I appreciated the vivid description of what life held for an unwed mother in the 19th century and I really started to like the narrator Lilli when she's listening to a sermon on how she should repent for her sins but wonders why the man who impregnated her isn't similarly being called out. Lilli's path to keep her child seeing her serving as a wet nurse in a wealthy household, needing to reclaim her baby from a state hospital and even living on the streets for a time. Overall, I like this book, although I do wish the character of Clementina had gotten a little more development. ( )
  wagner.sarah35 | Sep 17, 2017 |
"Does all beauty end in rot?"

Lilli de Jong is an amazing woman, inspiring and flawed; a thought-provoking superhero of a mother. Even if she is fictional.

None of Janet Benton's novel reads like fiction, although it is, of course, historical fiction. She writes in such a poetic, captivating way, yet her story is so incredibly detailed, it almost felt like I was reading a thesis of a Ph.D. student. Ms. Benton writes in this seamless fashion, caught between poetry and fact, but at no point does her writing feel bogged down by the details. It is not dry university textbook reading, but is written so beautifully and appears so factually true that I thought this must be non-fiction. If this doesn't sound like a compliment, that's my fault. I am complimenting the author highly for this brilliant feat of work.

I am deeply impressed by this novel. I was more than pleased to realize this was not a flip-flopping time period novel, like most historical fiction I've read in the past few weeks and I am grateful! There is no cheesy melodrama, no get-the-guy-in-the-end-or-bust romance that makes me queasy. (view spoiler)

We follow Lilli throughout her hardships as an unwed mother in late 19th century Philadelphia. Shunned by just about everybody but for a temporary home for women who fall pregnant due to multitudes of circumstances, Lilli struggles for her survival and the survival of her child. From day one, this is no easy feat. She must degrade herself to levels she never thought she'd have to sink to, against her morals and her beliefs as a good Quaker woman. She struggles to find kindness in strangers and every new battle gives her one more reason to stop continuing on, to stop fighting. Even the strongest, most hardy women have a breaking point.

If you want to read a gorgeous novel about strong women, this one is for you.
Lilli de Jong is the epitome of a fierce, bad ass, nasty woman.

Thank you to Netgalley, Janet Benton and the publishers for the opportunity to read an advanced copy of this book. ( )
  tuf25995 | Jul 28, 2017 |
This is a well written book. I commend Benton for writing it. But two thirds the way through, I realize I just can't listen any longer. I am laid so low by it, and cannot see any light. ( )
  kaulsu | Jul 26, 2017 |
Lilli De Jong is a young woman who grew up in the Quaker faith in Germantown, Pennsylvania. She enjoys her post as a schoolteacher and is engaged in her 1883 community. However, when her mother passes, Lilli's life takes a turn. Lilli's father turns cold and Lilli seeks solace in the arms of Johan, her father's apprentice. One night of passion leaves Lilli pregnant after Johan has moved to Pittsburgh for work in the steel mills. With no news from Johan, Lilli finds herself at a charity of unwed mothers. However, when the time comes to give up her daughter, she can't, throwing Lilli down a path of hardship all for the sake of her daughter.

Intimate details of Lilli's hardships are shown through her private journal entries, pulling me into the unknown world of wet nurses and limited women's rights at the time. Reading Lilli's journey was an intensely emotional experience for me, as I imagine it would be for anyone who has had a child. I was most impressed by the writing of the reality of having a baby and the overwhelmingness of it all. I could not imagine having to go through what Lilli did. I was happy that the writing included the true feelings of new motherhood- the ups, the downs, the fatigue, not knowing if you can carry on, all while falling hopelessly in love with the person you have created. Lilli's voice is unique in that she is an intelligent, outspoken and passionate woman who has fallen into an unfortunate circumstance for her time period. However, even with these attributes, she is barely able to pull through as an unmarried mother in 19th century America. I am aware that being an unmarried mother definitely had its challenges in early American history, although I was surprised at some of the challenges Lilli faced and how they paralleled mothers in today's society. Overall, a passionate and engaging book about the bond between mother and child and the will to conserve that bond in 19th Century America.

This book was received for free in return for an honest review. ( )
  Mishker | Jul 17, 2017 |
Lilli De Jong is living in Philadelphia with a conservative community of Quakers in 1883. She is in love with Johan who is leaving to look for work in Pittsburgh and once established will send for her. They both would like to marry. A mishap occurs and Lilli finds out that she is pregnant after Johan leaves town. She is in a difficult situation because she has not heard from Johan during her pregnancy.

The options are bleak for an unwed mother should she decide to keep her baby. She is left with three options surrounding the birth of her child. Put the baby up for adoption and go back to her former life. Keep her baby and live a life filled with hardships and negative social stigma. Search for her fiance and pursue marriage while finding a means to support herself and her child. Lilli decides to leave home to have her baby at a haven for unwed mothers. She will delay her decision until the baby is born.

This novel is a wonderful story about love and the intense bond that a mother instantaneously feels for her child. This book made me appreciate how society has changed for women and how much easier our lives are today. This is a beautiful debut novel by Janet Benton and one of my favorite reads of the year. ( )
  leopolds | May 21, 2017 |
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Every other door...is closed to her who, unmarried, is about to become a mother.  Deliberate, calculating villainy, fraud, outrage, burglary, or even murder with malice aforethought, seems to excite more sympathy, more helpful pity, more efforts for the reclamation of the transgressors than are shown towards those who, if not the victims of others, are at the worst but illustrations of human infirmity.   --annual report of the State Hospital for Women and Infants, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1880
For family, wherever one may find it, with gratitude and love to mine
First words
Some moments set my heart on fire, and that's when language seems the smallest.
How is it that shame affixes itself to the violated, and not to the violator?
So little is permissible for a woman-yet on her back every human climbs to adulthood.
If you want to eat apples, you're bound to meet some worms.
Do the senses trick us? Or do the senses tell us truly, and the world's restrictions only fail to let us follow them?
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0385541457, Hardcover)

A young woman finds the most powerful love of her life when she gives birth at an institution for unwed mothers in 1883 Philadelphia. She is told she must give up her daughter to avoid lifelong poverty and shame. But she chooses to keep her.
Pregnant, left behind by her lover, and banished from her Quaker home and teaching position, Lilli de Jong enters a home for wronged women to deliver her child. She is stunned at how much her infant needs her and at how quickly their bond overtakes her heart. Mothers in her position face disabling prejudice, which is why most give up their newborns. But Lilli can’t accept such an outcome. Instead, she braves moral condemnation and financial ruin in a quest to keep herself and her baby alive.
Confiding their story to her diary as it unfolds, Lilli takes readers from an impoverished charity to a wealthy family's home to the streets of a burgeoning American city. Drawing on rich history, Lilli de Jong is both an intimate portrait of love and loss and a testament to the work of mothers. "So little is permissible for a woman," writes Lilli, “yet on her back every human climbs to adulthood.”

(retrieved from Amazon Wed, 28 Dec 2016 14:25:29 -0500)

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