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The Naturalist of Amsterdam

The Naturalist of Amsterdam

By Melissa Ashleyhardcover10 October 2023
$34.99RRP $39.99
or 4 payments of $8.75 with Learn more
Booklovers earn $1.70 in rewards
Another rich and sumptuously told tale based on the life of artist Dorothea Graff, from award-winning and bestselling author of The Birdman's Wife and The Bee and the Orange Tree, Melissa Ashley. Set in 1700s Amsterdam and the wilds of the South American jungle, it charts the creation of one of the most famous works by a female artist of all time: The Metamorphosis of the Insects of Suriname.

At the turn of the 18th century, Amsterdam is at the centre of an intellectual revolution, with artists and scientists racing to record the wonders of the natural world. Of all the brilliant naturalists in Europe, Maria Sibylla Merian is one of its brightest stars.For as long as she can remember, Dorothea Graff's life has been lived in service to her mother, Maria: from collecting insects to colouring illustrations for Maria's world-famous publications. While Dorothea longs for a life that is truly her own, she constantly finds herself drawn back into her mother's world - and shadow. 
When Maria becomes entranced by the plant and insect life of Suriname, she is determined to record it for herself. At just twenty years old, Dorothea decides to join her on this once-in-a-lifetime journey. All the family's savings are ploughed into the dangerous expedition, but greatness is never achieved without sacrifice. The Metamorphosis of the Insects of Suriname will be Maria's masterpiece, but ensuring its legacy - and her own survival - will become her daughter's burden. When offered a chance of happiness, will Dorothea have the courage to take it, and risk everything her mother built?
From the jungles of South America to the bustling artists' studios of Amsterdam, Melissa Ashley charts an incredible period of discovery. With stunning lyricism and immaculate research, The Naturalist of Amsterdam gives voice to the long-ignored women who shaped our understanding of the natural world - both the artists and those who made their work possible.


  • Title: The Naturalist of Amsterdam
  • Author: Melissa Ashley
  • Publisher: Affirm
  • ISBN: 9781922863980
  • Length: 234.0 millimetre
  • Width: 153.0 millimetre
  • Languages: English


11/11/2023 5:34:08 PM - Marianne
a mesmerising historical fiction novel
4.5★s The Naturalist Of Amsterdam is the third novel by New Zealand-born Australian author, Melissa Ashley. When her Opa Marrel dies in 1681, three-year-old Dorothea Graff and her family move to Frankfurt to be with Oma Merian at Maria Merian’s insistence. Doortje knows her Papa is unhappy to leave behind clients, wealth and prestige in Nuremburg. Her Ma is an artist who is already a published author of Natural History books, and is convinced by her half-brother, Caspar, to leave the corrupt world and join the Labadists, followers of Jean Labadie’s teaching, at Walta Schloss, an estate bought for them by the richest family in Friesland. The Labadists, though, are a miserable lot, rejecting beauty and joy; Dort doesn’t like them much, especially the discipline she’s subjected to and, before long, Johann Graff renounces their ideals and is cast out by Maria. Maria has a laboratory where she can indulge in her studies, with Dort her assistant in collecting specimens, while Dort’s older sister Hanna produces images of their finds. So it takes until Dort is thirteen for her mother to become disillusioned with the Labadists, to up sticks and head for Amsterdam. In the intervening years, Hanna has married, but the family sets up an atelier where they sell paintings, Maria’s books, and art supplies and teach, until Maria’s desire to find new insect, plants and animals has her hatching a plan to go to the former Labadist settlement in Suriname. Even as Dort, now nineteen, is hoping to meet a suitable man, her mother is dragging her to the tropics to help collect. But all is not lost: some interesting years collecting exciting finds, until Maria is laid low by an illness that forces a return to Amsterdam. Dort gets to know the young ships surgeon who has a keen interest in her mother’s work, and in Dort herself. A proposal ensues. But if Dort thinks that being Mrs Philip Hendriks and mother od Eliza Maria will guarantee a settled life in Amsterdam, she has another think coming. Philip’s wanderlust soon reemerges, and he contracts as ships surgeon several times, taking along trinkets to trade with the East Indies natives for sought-after insects and animals that can be sold back home. Dort moves back in with Maria, once again assisting her, and her sister Hanna with specimens, and Maria’s ambitious project, a richly illustrated book detailing the metamorphosis of insects of Suriname: this is better than moping at home without her beloved. Fortune doesn’t smile upon Dort, though: she loses her daughter, her sister migrates to Suriname, her husband succumbs to illness at sea, and her mother suffers an affliction that, even when she recovers, leaves her much reduced. It takes the loss of her mother for Dort to realise that she could “step out of the invisibility of widowhood and being my mother’s assistant.” Determined to complete her mother’s latest project, she finally realises “I could draw, paint, engrave, etch, design, translate, prepare letterpress and copperplate. I could correspond, run a household, negotiate a network of clientele. I was a naturalist of Amsterdam, just as Ma had been.” Ashley certainly conjures her setting and era with consummate ease; her descriptive prose is rich and evocative, and it isn’t difficult to hope for a good outcome for her protagonist. Based on a the life of an actual European naturalist, this is quite a mesmerising historical fiction novel. This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by NetGalley and Affirm Press.


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