House of the Seven Sisters: A Novel of Food and Family

Overview

A quirky and heartwarming story of love, family, fate and food, Elle Eggels's The House of the Seven Sisters is the tale of seven mysteriously exotic women who, both independently and as a family, try to come to terms with the past and carve a path for the future. A wonderfully observed novel that casts an enchanting spell, Eggels's debut is marked by a charming combination of passion and humor.

When Martha ...

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2002 Hard cover New in new dust jacket. Sewn binding. Cloth over boards. 240 p. Audience: General/trade. New book with remainder mark(s).

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Overview

A quirky and heartwarming story of love, family, fate and food, Elle Eggels's The House of the Seven Sisters is the tale of seven mysteriously exotic women who, both independently and as a family, try to come to terms with the past and carve a path for the future. A wonderfully observed novel that casts an enchanting spell, Eggels's debut is marked by a charming combination of passion and humor.

When Martha and her six sisters are abandoned by their father following their mother's untimely death, the family bakery becomes the sisters' only means of survival. Martha, the eldest, is forced to lead the household and sacrifice her wants and desires in order to take on the responsibilities of her missing father, a baker by trade. Witnessed through the eyes of Emma, Martha's daughter from a failed marriage, the story follows the seven siblings as they mature and eventually leave the bakery in search of self-fulfillment and love. Each sister, however, will return to the fold, heartbroken and disillusioned after her chosen man — the married mayor, the "cowboy" con man, the hunchbacked boy next door — fails to stand the test of time. After years of drudgery the sisters transform the bakery into a bustling supermarket, but just when success seems within reach, turmoil erupts, threatening the happiness and contentment they'd long suffered to achieve.

Filled with humor, emotion and wonder, Elle Eggels's The House of the Seven Sisters is a lovely, evocative tale sure to touch every reader's heart.

Author Biography: Elle Eggels was born and raised in a small town in the southern Netherlands. A fashion journalist, she gave up her career to travel andbegin writing fiction, settling for a time in San Cristóbal de las Casas in Chiapas, Mexico. She now lives in Holland.

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Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
Seven sisters run a bakery after their mother's death and father's disappearance-in a Dutch family saga that edges toward magical realism. Emma, raised in post-WWII rural Holland by her six aunts, her mother, and Oma, who takes the role of Grandmother although her literal relationship remains unclear, is 13 when the father she's never known shows up in the bakery to die. Suddenly curious about her own upbringing, Emma begins to question her family, and the sisters' history unfolds. Devout but far from conventional Catholics, the sisters are bound together despite shifting affections and loyalties. When only a teenager, Emma's mother Martha, the oldest sister, takes over the bakery and care of her sisters. Her husband Sebastian moves into the bakery but leaves when Emma is an infant, unable to handle the household of women. The other sisters' love lives are no happier; no man can compete with the power of their combined femininity. Fragile Marie waits seven years to marry, then returns home weeks later without comment and eventually becomes a nun. Warmhearted Christina, who is more of a mother to Emma than Martha herself, finds a wonderful loving husband, but he dies soon after the wedding. Tomboy Vincente is tricked by a scam artist. Dreamy Clara falls in love with sex, while her twin sister Camilla is forbidden to marry the hunchbacked neighbor who dies trying to cure himself at Lourdes. After Oma dies, she returns as a spirit/ghost/vision to teach Emma how to make sauerkraut and give general advice. Although they wander from the bakery, eventually the sisters end up together again, more united than ever when their long-lost father's widow shows up (as the Oma spirit has warned) andclaims ownership of the bakery. Even Emma, despite marriage and the birth of a son, is unable to escape the bakery's spell. Sensual talespinning: often evocative and involving, if a bit precious.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780688170707
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 12/3/2002
  • Edition description: 1ST US
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 5.62 (w) x 8.25 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Elle Eggels was born and raised in a small town in the southern Netherlands. A fashion journalist, she gave up her career to travel and begin writing fiction, settling for a time in San Cristóbal de las Casas in Chiapas, Mexico. She now lives in Holland.

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First Chapter

The House of the Seven Sisters
A Novel of Food and Family

Chapter One

I didn't get to know my father until after his death. We were sitting in the courtyard. The heat was hanging over our table like a drunk who won't go away, and we were sipping grenadine we had chilled in the cellar, because this was back in the days before there was a fridge in every home -- people still had big families, and kitchens were places with huge coal-burning stoves and long tables with lots of chairs.

It was one of those summer evenings when you can already feel the autumn nibbling away the daylight, and my aunts were telling stories about people I had never met. I couldn't put faces to any of the names, and that was why I didn't understand why the women kept on bursting into shrieks of laughter and doubling up over their knitting while the stitches slipped from their needles. Christina's laughter bounced through her wool for minutes at a time. She never actually managed to tell one of those weird and wonderful stories herself because the memories tripped her up before she could find the words to string them together -- they stuck in her throat and almost choked her. Tears of laughter would roll down her round cheeks and, even though we never got to hear the story, we would gasp along with her until our stomachs felt like they had been put through a wringer and our insides ached from crotch to navel.


We had closed the bakery early that day after selling out of bread -- the journeyman baker had gone swimming in the river and we couldn't do a second round of baking without him. It always amazed me how persistently people could knock on our doors and windows, even when they knew there weren't any tarts or loaves of bread left and that they would have to end up coming back the next day whether we answered or not.

But whoever was standing out there this time started hitting the shop window with a stick. The glass cried out and our laughter took cover in the cherry tree. The sisters wiped their cheeks and exchanged silent glances, looking from one to the other, knowing that it had to be something horrible out there on the pavement. In the end it was Camilla who slid back her chair and went to have a look. When she came back she spoke in a hushed voice and gave that horrible thing a name: 'Sebastian.' Then she covered her eyes and stood there frozen to the spot for hours to avoid seeing what had happened.

We walked into the hall in time to see two strangers carry a lifeless body into the living room and lay it down on the table. The man's jacket and trousers were torn to shreds, and the tattered edges were stiff with blood soaked up from his wounds. Someone had wrapped a blue-checked tea towel around his head and that was soaked with blood too. I was bundled back into the hallway. A little later the nun who was our district nurse showed up and hugged each of the women in turn. Then she looked at me and said, 'Poor child.' I took a quick step backwards before she had a chance to pull me into the range of her overpowering body odour as well. Christina told me to go out into the courtyard and wait with Oma. Through the cracked panes in the back door, I watched the women running back and forth with towels and basins of steaming water while their aprons swished over the wainscoting. It was like a scene from a silent movie.


'Oma,' I asked, 'who is that man?'

Without letting her knitting needles falter in the rhythm of their monotonous song, Oma mumbled that she had already knitted seven socks this week, even though her sweaty fingers had made the wool wet and lumpy.

Oma only ever knitted one kind of sock, but she never counted them in pairs, always as separate items. Whenever she finished a sock she just threw it into a basket with all the others. It was up to whoever needed new socks to sort through them in search of a pair - the socks all had the same number of stitches, but no two were ever exactly alike.

Oma paid no heed to the men who had turned up with the battered body. She didn't even seem to have noticed the sudden uproar in the house. Until she suddenly started talking in her strong German accent.

'Your papa, he was a beautiful man. He looked like that Roy Rogers. Your papa, he could have been in the movies. He played very nice, and horses he could ride too.'

The man everyone had been keeping quiet about for thirteen years was in there lying on our living room table, and I was supposed to stay outside?


The sun withdrew behind the bakery and took the light with it. Dinner never came and I stayed there waiting in the remnants of the evening with Oma. Finally Vincentia came out to get me. She buried her hands deep in her pockets -- Vincentia was the first woman in the village to wear trousers -- and said, 'You mustn't cry, you never even knew him.' Then she led me into the living room, which now smelt even worse than the fat nun's armpits. The table had been covered with a clean sheet that went all the way down to the floor. The laundry soap in the sheet tried to smother the smell of the corpse, and the musty brand-new pyjamas hugged the stiff body with embarrassed reluctance. A thin pillow had been slipped under the man' s battered skull, and one hand had been draped over the other to hide his missing fingers. His hands might not have been clasped in prayer, but the nun had still managed to weave a rosary around those fingers of glass. The small crucifix with copper corpus was resting on his stomach, on top of the beige-and-tan-striped pyjamas. The dead man's bruised and battered cheeks were all puffed up and lumpy, as if his mouth were full of gobstoppers. There was a spotless plaster on his forehead, and a dark cloth had been tied around his head the way farmers wear them in summer to protect themselves from the sun.

The House of the Seven Sisters
A Novel of Food and Family
. Copyright © by Elle Eggels. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 7, 2004

    Page turner novel

    From begining to end, I could not put it down, I can see this book being recommended from book club to book club. This book speeks to women of all ages. Heartwarming and bittersweet story of 7 sisters trying to survive in an emotional world and deal, the best way they can, with the unexpected situations life brings to each one of them. Behind every sister there is a hidden story and the author kneads them, like ingredients of a recipie, to form a beautifull Tart.

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