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Reviews of Bitter Bonds: A Colonial Divorce Drama of the Seventeenth Century

“One of the best books of the year … Bitter Bonds is the most intriguing work of micro-history.”
— Felipe Fernández-Armesto, London Times Literary Supplement

“In 1689 Cornelia van Nijenroode reached Holland from Batavia (today’ s Jakarta) to argue in the High Court why she should be granted divorce and security of her assets from her estranged husband, Johan Bitter. … He represents the world of Holland and Holland overseas. Cornelia represents Batavia’s Eurasian world and Japan overseas. … Blussé … has pried her story from legal proceedings, family archives, letters, and municipal and church archives compiled in Batavia and Holland. He has also visited Cornelia’s birthplace in Japan to construct a biography of this Eurasian woman whose portrait hangs in Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum. … Through his narrative, we hear words spoken by Asian slaves, their owners, and ministers of religion; we learn about Eurasian women who provided mortgages to Chinese businessmen. Blussé brings all this in a form aimed to appeal to a general reading public: fictional monologues and reproductions of sketches and paintings by seventeenth-century recorders of Dutch urban life in Asia and Holland enliven the text. Bitter Bonds … is a rich depiction of societies long gone and an excellent introduction for the students to the intersections of race, gender, and class in Asia and Europe.”
— The Journal of  Asian Studies

“Melodramatic and ripe for Hollywood.”
— Suddeutsche Zeitung

“Blussé’s fine research has given us a fresh picture of a woman living between worlds and of the cultural and economic crosscurrents in the Pacific.”
— Natalie Zemon Davis, author of  The Return of Martin Guerre

“A seventeenth-century daughter of a geisha and a Dutch merchant, widow of a wealthy Dutch official of the Dutch East India Company, married a Dutch lawyer in Batavia only to find he controlled her fortune and her life. She fought to maintain her independence. Superb research and detective work have pieced together a story of marital relations, the Dutch East India Company, and European-Asian legal differences with a rare view of the interior of colonial life in the seventeenth century. The book’s most intriguing element is the fight that a Japanese-Dutch widow was able to put up against the forces of Western imperialism. … The research is sound and the portrayal original and enlightening in this fascinating historical drama of colonial relations between Holland and its markets and colonies in Japan and Indonesia.”

‘The story of a rich, half-Japanese beauty in Batavia and her tempestuous divorce from a cold, tough colonial official. Leonard Blussé’s new book is … for the light it casts on love and life on a colonial frontier, the most illuminating.”
The Economist
Chosen as one of The Economist‘s books of the year

“An emotional, turbulent true story of betrayal and the quest for independence, Bitter Bonds is ably translated into English by Diane Webb and a highly recommended contribution to academic women’s history reference collections and supplemental reading lists.”
Midwestern Book Review

“The book has an enjoyable, novelistic style.”
– Asian Studies Review