Reviewed by Emma Crowley
Thirty years of family secrets. Three generations of women. One family heirloom that could change everything.
When she ran away from her childhood home in Guyana, Rika swore that she would never return. Cut off from her family, she has fought hard to make a life for herself and daughter, Inky, in London.
Now, over thirty years later, Rika’s cantankerous, wheelchair-bound mother, Dorothea, arrives in London. But as old wounds re-open, Dorothea and Rika are further apart than ever.
Inky soon learns that her grandmother is sitting on a small fortune. As she uncovers the secrets of the past one by one, she unravels the tragedy that tore her mother and grandmother apart. But nothing can prepare her, or Rika, for Dorothea’s final, unexpected revelation.
An epic, mesmerizing tale of tragic loss, the strength of words left unspoken, and the redeeming power of love.
The Small Fortune of Dorothea Q has such a beautiful cover and intriguing title that I instantly wanted to read it without even glancing through the blurb. I only discovered the delights Bookouture offer late last year and was highly impressed with The Poets Wife by Rebecca Stonehill so I had high expectations for this new novel by Sharon Maas.
This is a big story spanning three generations of women from the Quint family from the 30’s right up until the 00’s. With such a huge timespan and three very different women to focus on the book only really got going in the second half but once it did I was racing through the pages of this beguiling, thought provoking and at times puzzling story. This is a book about much more than a stamp of major historical importance. It explores the lives, loves, loss and misunderstanding that circle around many families and how elements of the past always have a bearing on the future.
Set in Guyana (formerly British Guiana) it was wonderful to read a book which was set in a really different country to where I live, where I knew nothing of their culture or even where the country was (I do admit to looking it up on Google), these sections were well written and I got lost in the stories of Dorothea and Rika although they did take quite a while to get going. In general, I found I did trudge through the first half I thought I wasn’t getting anywhere and I think this was mainly because there was so much setting up to do with so much backstory to give in relation to the three main characters Inky, Rika and Dorothea. There were lots of links to establish and plots to lay the foundations for that many of these storylines only really beared fruit in the second half.
I admit I was tempted to give up, after being so eager to read this I was disappointed that I wasn’t gripped straight away but now I am ever so glad that I persisted because once I got to the halfway point everything started coming together and things made more sense. I began to realise why characters acted and felt the way they did and the whole book appeared more cohesive I felt the story really gathered pace and strength. The chapters were shorter and more to the point and each left you hanging wanting to know what was in store.
Focusing on three female members of the same family Dorothea, Rika and Inky the book jumps back and forth quite often as we learn of Dorothea’s childhood in Guyana as she navigates the world of growing up and falling in love and how war changes everything. We met Rika in the 60’s she is Dorothea’s daughter and cannot understand why she is not loved in the same way as her siblings. Rika feels neglected and unloved and there is open bitterness and almost hostility towards her. She loves reading and writing and uses this as her escape but at the same time she wants to be what she feels is normal like all the other girls and a situation brings forth the harsh realities of having your emotions fooled around with. Inky is Rika’s daughter, she has never met any of her mother’s family until they are forced to take in her Gran from Guyana and care for her. Inky seemed the least developed of the three and I felt I didn’t know or care for her as much as the other two women but the other two storylines made up for this.
Rika has had no contact with her family for many years and it is a big step up for her to take on her mother once again and care for her in her old age. A stamp seems to connect them all but there is so much more going on here than just a piece of paper. The author really made me like Dorothea when I read about her story in the 30’s but in the 60’s and 00’s she appeared a totally changed woman and in a way a mean and slighted hated person who had lost her warmth and compassion. I was eager to keep reading to see what had caused such a turnaround in a character that had seemed to have her whole life ahead of her but somehow things had not gone to plan.
There are way too many twists and turns and unexpected events and surprises in this book to attempt to go into here. This book is rich in detail and emotion and has the most beautiful and real description of loss I have ever read. Despite initial hesitations with this book I am glad to have discovered a new author who in the end successfully had me turning the pages to reach the end of a well written compelling tale.