I loved how the author started the book off, talking about Ella, the Baroness van Heemstra. In the first two paragraphs, we begin to gain a little more understanding of this woman who was Audrey Hepburn's mother:
"Thanks to the composure of the Dutch baroness, her eight- and four-year-old sons could face the heavy weather cheerfully. But if she did not hold their hands tightly, the wind might easily sweep the children overboard. Better to take them inside for hot chocolate (pg. 1)."
What an interesting first glimpes into the Baroness! We learn she was well traveled, she had two sons. She had great composure and a calm head, but an awareness of the world around her. And while it seems she might not mind this storm (mild in comparison with others she has weathered) it's clear that she cares for her children so, without alarming them, she takes them inside for hot chocolate. It's not until page 5 that the "newborn daughter" arrives on the scene and we don't get her name until page 10 that we get her name: Audrey Kathleen Ruston.
While I was reading that first segment, I found myself a little impatient to start hearing about Audrey Hepburn.. However, in retrospect, I think that this was a great beginning! This is the scene building that is important necessary for understanding the relationship that Audrey and her mother would have.
So much information is smashed into these first few pages. Pages explaining the sad relationships that the Baroness had with her two husbands, culminating in the second abandonment (pg. 14) where one day Joseph Ruston, the Baroness's second husband, just walked away.
Here we read about the effects of ever heating politics had on Audrey's family. In 1939, as things between England and Germany heated up, Ella and Audrey sought refuge in neutral Holland. And, while war had officially been declared, few Dutch people worried, that is until April 1940 when Nazis invaded Denmark and Norway.
Then, May 1940, Holland fell and the German occupation was more than just a distant sort-of threat. "Over the next ten months, the van Heemstra bank accounts, securities and personal jewelry were confiscated. Secure in their wealth for centuries, they now saw almost everything taken away (pg. 21)." With anti-English bias growing, to protect Audrey - a British, English speaking citizen, Ella had Audrey become fluent in Dutch and enrolled her in school under the name of Edda van Heemstra.
During the years, 1940 to 1945, living in Holland became a nightmare. Threats were broadcast daily, German attacks were common-place. Everything was rationed. Audrey saw first-hand the atrocities of the Nazi occupants.
"Families with babies, little children being hauled into meat wagons, wooden vans with just a slat at the top, and all those faces staring out at you," Audrey recalled later, listing snapshot-memories of those deported from Holland to concentration camps. "I knew the cold clutch of human terror all through my early teens: I saw it, felt it, heard it -- and it never goes away. You see, it wasn't just a nightmare: I was there, and it all happened (pg. 23)."As winter came, things only got worse. As food and fuel became more and more scarce, "the Nazis calmly watched the Dutch people starve to daeth as all available food was diverted to German soldiers (pg. 30)."
But the spirit of the Dutch was unconquerable. There were had "black performances", to cheer the Dutch people. Audrey loved to dance and choreographed her own, amateur routines. She, and other performers, took messages and money to and for the Dutch Underground. It's chilling to read about the bravery of these people, taking such chances in hopes of working toward a better future.
I thought the author did a great job not throwing any negative slant on the Baroness's reticence. It was simply part of who she was, a result of her upbringing and life experiences. Yet, from her actions we can clearly see that she loved Audrey greatly. They survived the Nazi occupation and went on to volunteer as staffers for the homes of wounded veterans. By 1946, things in Holland were returning to some semblance of normalcy and Audrey's love of dance brought her out of the depression she'd fallen into. The Baroness supported her daughter in her dream. She took a job cleaning floors so that Audrey could attend dancing school.
Audrey threw herself into dancing, but 17yrs is too old to begin training for professional dance and the malnutrition during her formative years was too much to overcome. Yet, she didn't give up on it completely. Instead, she opted for theater gigs that allowed her to dance. This opened up opportunities to get noticed, and (as we all know) she was!