Book Review: ‘Girl Out of Place’ by Syl van Duyn

“A coming-of-age story set during the liberation of the Dutch East Indies. At the end of the war, Nell is released from a Japanese internment camp in Java. While searching for her father in the chaos, she meets Tim, a young man who is looking for his family too. Nell’s journey takes her first to Singapore then to a new life and new friends in Sydney, Australia. But although Tim may well be the love of her life, her father puts her on a passenger liner bound for the Netherlands. Will Nell really be able to settle in a country she’s never known – and will she ever see Tim again? Based on the true story of Nora Valk, this is an exciting tale of courage and friendship, hope and determination, about the search for love and a place to finally call home.”

Thank you to Love Book Tours and the author for my copy of this book and my spot on this blog tour.

Review of Girl Out of Place by Syl van Duyn,
translated by Ernestine Hoegen

My rating: 3/5

Syl van Duyn’s Girl Out of Place follows Nell, a young girl, as she, along with her aunt, is released from a Japanese internment camp in Java, where they have spent the Second World War. Having lost her mother during the time in the camp, Nell starts a journey of finding her father – a pilot during the war – and a new place to belong. On a train to Surabaya, she meets Tim, and feels an instant kinship with him, even if the chance encounter is cut short when she loses him in the crowd. For Nell, Tim was almost a symbol light and a new beginning. It is not surprising that next years for her are also about finding Tim again and the connection they once shared for a brief moment. 

While there have been moments, when I wasn’t particularly fond of Nell as she seemed to be the character that complained the most, you could understand certain aspects of her personality – she has been through so much at the very young age, and despite having to grow up very quickly in the war, she has also remained very naïve and innocent, sheltered from the outside influence in the camp, she has not grown many other ways until way later. 

I wished there was a bit more of the atmosphere of the times and places Nell has come to live in as that’s something I really enjoy in historical fiction. But on the overall, it was interesting to read another book set in a different part of the world exploring the post-World War II period. I have read not long ago Those Who Are Loved by Victoria Hislop, so Girl Out of Place has fit nicely into my recent reads.

Who is the book for: I would recommend Girl Out of Place to those who enjoy historical fiction, and enjoy finding about the perspectives from the countries they might have not known that well previously. You can get your copy here.

For those interested in knowing more about the author & translator:

Syl van Duyn is author of four Dutch language children’s books: ‘Hallo Aarde, Hier Maan’ (2001), ‘Mijn Zus is een Flussemus’ (2002), ‘Angels’ (2008) and ‘Op zoek naar jou’ (2015), as well as an adult non-fiction book based on the columns she wrote for the Dutch magazine Margriet (‘Een kwetsbaar bestaan’ (2001). She works for the Dutch broadcasting network VPRO, selecting and purchasing documentaries, and lives in Amsterdam.

Ernestine Hoegen has translated Girl out of Place by Syl van Duyn from Dutch into English. She has also written a biography of Dutchwoman Mieke Bouman (Unieboek | Spectrum) 2020. She worked as a public prosecutor before turning to writing, translating and editing full-time in 2017. She lives near Arnhem.


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