When Diary of a Lacemaker came in as a submission, I was immediately impressed with the professionalism of the writing, the prose as well as the story. It was one of the few books we get that didn’t need extensive editing before publication. I found aspects of the story confronting, but I think it’s important for modern people to know this kind of history of racial relations. It helps us, both White and Black people, to understand where we’ve come from and why certain attitudes are embedded in aspects of modern Western society. Only by exposing these attitudes can we change them. It’s a book that I hope will be widely read.
In 1749 feisty Saskia Klaassens sails from her abusive home in the Netherlands to work as nursemaid in Africa’s Cape of Good Hope. At the wine estate, she is appalled by the slaves’ lives even as love slowly burns for one, the stable master Titus. She struggles with the arrogant whims of her employers, all the while making lace and viewing life through its prism.
When secret intrigues come to light, a storm of fear sweeps through the estate, and Saskia must decide where her loyalties lie – with her violent Dutch kinsmen or her forbidden lover. All the while she weaves what beauty she can to the rhythm of her bobbins, as events move toward their thrilling and tragic climax.
Reviews for Diary of a Lacemaker
“I read historical fiction to learn something of a particular time and place without having to do the slogging research myself. How much more luxurious to learn through a novel, with perhaps a bit of romance, what life might have been like on a wine plantation in South Africa in the mid-eighteenth century. Sukey Hughes has done this for us beautifully with her new book, Diary of a Lacemaker. Not only is it a delicious read, but it is also a stirring glimpse into the quasi-caste system of the time. In some ways the story works as a kind of “Upstairs/Downstairs” tale. The slaves and servants, and their owners/employers live entangled lives.
Our heroine, Saskia, arrives with the mistress of the plantation and her children from Amsterdam, as no better than an indentured servant. When the mistress finds out that she is a lacemaker, and therefore a money maker, she is further enmeshed in the Big House. She befriends the slaves and the other servants. A nanny, she is able to move between the two worlds but belongs to neither. As an outsider, she is able to see most clearly the social, political, and emotional inequities of her surroundings. Much the way Anne Perry does for the Victorian era, Hughes takes us behind the facade of the times to the lives of the people who are suffering while others posture. Her research was phenomenal. I felt enmeshed in the color, flavor, noise, smells, and language of the different settings of the book. And as for that love story, you will have to read Diary of a Lacemaker for yourself.”
– Ariadne Weaver, Ph.D. in Cultural History, U. of Chicago
“Hughes’s young Dutch lacemaker, Saskia, takes us on an enticing, moving, frightening journey to her new life in South Africa in the 1740s. Looking for a new experience, she accepts a post as a childminder-cum-servant of a wealthy winemaking family, but then … well, read the book! Saskia’s interactions with people of diverse ethnicities, social standings and backgrounds make for a thrilling ride through life.
On each page I find myself marvelling at the beautifully crafted writing. I was particularly taken by the author’s imaginative similes and metaphors. She’s obviously done her research too, as attested by the convincing detail and imagery. If you’ve never visited 18th-century South Africa, this book will make you think that you have.”
– Dr. David Barnes-Hughes
“Historical fiction can be so awesome or awfully disappointing. Having been disappointed more than once lately (cloying heroines, little sense of historical context …) I had retreated to nonfiction. That’s why I’m so glad my best friend gave me Diary of a Lacemaker! I stayed up late each night to read it through, savoring every delicious detail. Don’t you love it when a book or movie just sweeps you off your feet like that?
I don’t want to give the story away. I’ll just say that the characters are real to me now, like friends you’ve known and loved for some time, and a place and time once foreign is suddenly alive with rich detail. Give yourself the gift of Diary of a Lacemaker. And give one to your best friend too.”
– Theresa Laursen, James Beard Award-nominated author
“I was totally absorbed and amazed by the details and passion of the time, place, and characters. The skillful writing put me in a time and place I had no way of knowing without Sukey Hughes’ artful crafting. This is a powerful novel of important historical and universal themes. I am grateful that I had the experience of reading this novel, not an easy read, but a deepening understanding of the necessity of following one’s destiny.”
– Dorothy Jardin, creative writing teacher, poet, author Light’s River
“Diary of a Lacemaker by Sukey Hughes is a deeply emotional novel that delivers Saskia Klaassens and the readers onto the shores of Dutch-ruled South Africa in 1749. She has known only a hard life in Holland and what unfolds here, with great grace and beauty, is a girl becoming a woman, learning life in a beautiful and dangerous land of owners and slaves, and keeping the secret at the center of her heart. She is a lacemaker – for the love of it, for the magic in her hands, guarding this from people who would use it for their own gain. Saskia moves into your heart in the first paragraph and lives there still when the book ends.”
-Gerald DiPego, author of five novels, including Cheevey, and the films Phenomenon, Message in a Bottle, Words and Pictures, and many others.
“Sukey Hughes takes us on an historical trip in which life for all members of society is inescapable–except for the heroine who, despite incredible danger, follows her heart–despite the price. You don’t want to miss this eloquent, elegant adventure into the past–and you won’t forget it or the elegant and opulent word painting of the author who spares herself nothing so that we can BE THERE!”
– Zoe Keithley, novelist, The Calling of Mother Adelli; Of Fire of Water of Stone: Jophile’s Story