When the Dikes Breached by Margaret Attema

Margaret Attema’s novel is set against the backdrop of the disastrous floods that engulfed Zeeland, the southwestern province of The Netherlands in February 1953. Large parts of Zeeland, a major agricultural centre of The Netherlands, lie below sea level, and when a massive storm surge broke the dikes, it led to the large-scale evacuation of a large portion of the population of the province. In total, more than 2,500 people died, and countless livestock and buildings were destroyed. It took almost a year to repair the dikes and resettle the people of Zeeland.

Klara grows up in a conservative and deeply religious community. She is destined to marry the son of a wealthy local farmer against her wishes—but what can a young woman do against centuries of tradition? Klara finds refuge in the poetry books her Aunt Neeltje, who lives on the mainland, has given her: Joost van den Vondel and Bertus Aafjes, writers whose work is marked by a deep faith; and Adriaan Roland Holst, whose poetry is filled with romantic longing and elevates loneliness to almost mythic levels—in other words, the kind of writing that could fill a young girl’s head with dreams in an isolated community. Then the dikes break. Klara and her family are rescued by two fishermen and are taken first to an emergency shelter on the island, and then to another shelter on the mainland before they move into a temporary home.

In Roseville, new possibilities open for Klara, and her hair finally escapes the confines of her kapje—her traditional bonnet—and she takes her first tentative steps to independence by volunteering to join the Silt and Soap crew that is helping to clean up houses in her village of New Port. Back in New Port, she learns that her betrothed is also there; when the handsome young fisherman also appears, things get complicated. Klara learns a family secret and is forced to make difficult choices.

When the Dikes Breached is a fast-paced and compelling story. There is barely a moment where the action lags, or where a detail feels out of place. The author does well to manage a large cast of characters and to weave a complex series of historical events around the story of Klara’s coming of age.

Peter Midgley is a bilingual writer and editor from Edmonton. Over the course of thirty years, he has worked as a freelance editor, festival director, university lecturer, managing editor, acquisitions editor, clerk of court, bartender, actor, janitor, and door-to-door salesman. This experience has given him enough material for more than a dozen books. His latest book, let us not think of them as barbarians (NeWest Press), was shortlisted for the Stephan G. Stephansson Award in 2019.

MARTHA ATTEMA’s award-winning novels were inspired by family experiences and historical events during WWII. Her concern for the environment is reflected in this new novel for young readers. Born in the Netherlands, Martha Attema now lives in Powassan, Ontario.

  • Ronsdale Press April 2023
  • print ISBN: 978-1-55380-674-5
  • ebook ISBN: 978-1-55380-675-2
  • PDF ISBN: 978-1-55380-676-9
  • 5-1/4″ x 7-5/8″ Trade paper, 302 pages
  • Young Adult – Ages 12 and Up