Cover Image: Breakwater


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Emilia does not want her life to be defined by what happened to her one day: a stranger broke into her house and beat and raped her, so she keeps the event secret from everyone, including her then boyfriend, who later becomes her husband. She denies it until, many years later, an unfortunate event brings it all back to the surface, causing her to lose whatever direction she tried to give her life. All this is aggravated by a violent flood that forces her to evacuate her home. The psychological work the author has done on the character is interesting, however, in my opinion, she has added too many turbulent details, as if these were the reason why, when something unpleasant happens to her, Emilia is unable to give rational order to her reality again. This is for me the sore point of an otherwise enjoyable novel: the apparent need for an excuse to explain the mental breakdown of a woman who has suffered violence.

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This was unexpectedly one of my favorite reads of the year. It's brutal but the can't-stop-reading it kind of brutal. Reading this was like watching my own train wreck. It broke me deeply and invited me to participate in the breaking by making me reflect on my own traumas.

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Due to the fact that it is evident from early on that our protagonist, Emilia, has suffered a Traumatic (capital T) sexual assault in her past, this novel took me a long time to read but I’m very glad that I continued with it as I found it to be a very rewarding read. What is so interesting about this novel is that it explores what can happen when Traumas are buried, when we keep them secret and when we do not seek therapy. It explores such consequences both internally and externally in our relationships with others. In this case, it is primarily Emilia’s relationship with her husband Bruch and for a large part of the novel Emilia is grappling with whether or not to finally tell Bruch about her Trauma.
What initially drew me to this novel was that it is set in The Netherlands, where I live, but I was also very intrigued by the premise that Emilia is a statistician and wondered what direction Schermer would take this in in relation to exploring how Emilia responds to her past. I found the crescendo the novel takes towards the ends - all I will say is that the geography and susceptibility to flooding of the Dutch countryside around Amsterdam is of key relevance - particularly effective and left me with images that will stay with me for a long time, as will the novel as a whole.

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Emilia has a fulfilling career as a statistician. She has a loving husband, two sons, and a beautiful countryside home. However, when a fleeting moment of panic triggers a haunting memory, the delicate balance of her life begins to unravel. Later, heavy rains cause a flood in their neighborhood and threaten their house. And Emilia’s inner turmoil is just getting bigger and bigger.

Schermer explores the profound impact of sexual violence, exploring how a deeply buried secret can resurface unexpectedly and disrupt the carefully constructed facade of normalcy.

The threat of the overflowing river reflects the uncontainable surge of memories that threaten to engulf her. The boundaries of both - house and her protection from the past - can be very fragile.

Breakwater is a haunting examination of memory, trauma, and the resilience of the human spirit.

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Breakwater is a novel about memories, mental health, and silence around trauma. It is sharp and precise, almost economical in words. The story told from Emilia's point of view is full of tension as the sentences flow one after the other in a frenzy, a frenetic rhythm waiting for the memories of a past sexual assault to engulf Emilia. It is a portrait of a woman who slowly unravels page after page.

Reading Breakwater almost felt like walking on thin ice, not knowing when it would suddenly break. It often left me breathless and on edge.

Although not exactly similar, my mind kept wandering to Märta Tikkanen's novel The Love Story of the Century translated by Stina Katchadourian.

I would look up the trigger warnings before picking this one up.

"Her happiness was a glow that made her existence vividly real and at the same time erased her completely. It was as intense as falling in love, but of far greater weight, so there was nothing fluttery about it. Not that she was without thoughts. It was more as if her personality had disappeared. She was a head and she was a body but there was no unifying shell, no responsibility, little reflection. She felt detached. Before she experienced it, and after it went away a short time later, the idea that this existed and was pleasant was unthinkable."

I voluntarily read and reviewed a free of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

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A powerful and painful short Dutch novel about the long-lasting trauma of rape. Emilia seems to have a good life. A career, a loving husband, two little boys and a house in the country. Refusing to be defined by her rape, she has suppressed the memory of the attack and kept it secret from her husband. But the devastating consequences refuse to stay hidden and gradually the effect on her mental health comes to the fore, in a climax that is both unpredictable and deeply moving. It’s a tense novel, fraught with a sense of impending doom, narrated with insight and empathy. An important and sensitive exploration of violence against women.

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This book explores a marriage rocked by a secret and was a great read overall. Certain parts could have been more engaging, but I understand this was definitely more character-driven than plot-driven.

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There are times in life when we pack away trauma we have erased all thoughts and try to move only to realise it is always just waiting to surge to the top again. Emilia carries a secret that is slowly causing the marriage to become more and more dysfunctional driving both apart.
This is a story touching on real life. Marriage, trust, love, doubt, shame and a reflection of one's life are beautifully written. I loved this story.
An independent review thanks to NetGalley / World Editions

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Breakwater was a tense, gripping read. Marijke Schermer writes with profundity, her characters are interesting, and the narrative carries the the weight of the metaphorical elements well, without being bogged down. The translation felt a little clunky in one or two places, but was overall a smooth read. I appreciate being able to read more Dutch work in English, and look forward to reading more World Editions titles.

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Emilia has it all: a rewarding career as a statistician, a wonderful husband, two healthy young sons, and a house in the countryside. But when a brief moment of panic triggers the memory of a traumatic experience from twelve years before, Emilia finds herself floating away from her average existence. The secret she’s kept for so long refuses to stay hidden, and as Emilia’s grip on reality loosens, heavy rains begin to fall and the river threatens to overflow the house. In this critically acclaimed novel, Schermer explores the impact of sexual violence, and whether or not it’s possible to truly know another person. Breakwater is a haunting examination of memory and trauma, written in prose stunning in its frankness and precision. Pick up this novel and you will find it hard to put it down again, and when you have read it, you will find it easy to believe that you have actually been there experiencing the story yourself.

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If you gave me a billion dollars, I'm not sure I could tell you what this book was about. Well, I can on the surface level (secrets and the cost of keeping them for both the holder and the one(s) who the secret is kept from). Yet, I know there is more that I should be taking away from this. Something deeper that the author wants to impart that I'm just not evolved enough to intuit. And thus the reason that I'm not the audience for certain types of books. Table for obtuse, party of one please!!

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Though short at just under 130 pages, Breakwater is no less affecting for its brevity. Detailing the spiral into which Emilia falls after a reminder of the assault she hid from her now husband years ago, this novel is stark in its feeling as we are brought along to experience Emilia drowning in the aftermath.

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Too few books tackle the difficult topic of trauma, even fewer trauma from sexual violence. This book tackled both with insightful thought, descriptions, feelings and realism. As someone who has PTSD, this book both validates those who have experience with traumatic events and its circumstances, and describes with devastating accuracy the ongoing and persistent effects on later life. I think this book was breath-taking and, although very difficult to read at times, a really important work of literature. I hadn’t read any of this author’s works before but will certainly be trying any existing and future novels.

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I felt quickly instantly in what felt indisputably a "European" novel. A small setting, a single perspective yet a maelstrom of universal issues.

On the surface a family story of Emilia, a statistician, her doctor husband Bruche and their two sons living their lives in a rural house beyond the protection of the dikes. Then the rain comes, torrential rain with consequent flooding and destruction. The story becomes analogous to the weather, breaking down Emilia's defences as she re-lives her violent rape which happened the night she met her future husband. She has never spoken of this but it has come back to her and, as the water begins to engulf their house, the past, which has defined her in many ways, threatens to overwhelm her.

The novel ponders the questions of secrets and how much of ourselves we reveal in our closest relationships What happens if we share, what happens if we do not share, what is intimacy and what is personal.

With thanks to NetGalley and World Editions for their generosity

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“When everything’s back to normal. When we know each other and what’s happened can’t soil me in his eyes. Then I’ll tell him.”

The love is fresh between Emilia and Bruch when it happened, that phase of unlimited interest in one another, hours of daydreaming and exploration. It is severed by a violence Emilia could never have imagined. She is violated, brutalized, and she must decide whether to let this into her new relationship by telling Bruch. She distances herself, decides to keep it a secret so it cannot define their relationship or intrude upon their intimacy. She manages for twelve years, rearing children with Bruch, establishing a new home in the country. Then an innocent thing happens, and the poisonous memory explodes.

An unrelenting rain threatens their home, set in a pastoral and uninsurable landscape along a river, beyond the safety of the dike. Bruch makes plans, packs sandbags, moves furniture, as Emilia becomes distant, questioning the decision not to tell him what had happened to her those many years ago. If the floodwaters reach their home, they will lose everything. If this trauma becomes dialogue between them, they might lose something more precious, their trust.

Thank you to NetGalley and World Editions for providing this eARC.

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I finished Breakwater a few days ago — thought it was page-turning - brilliantly written —and the storytelling immediately grabbed me..
The first chapter set the stage with so much inquisitiveness — such a powerful force — it haunted my thoughts throughout- till the end.

As a seventy- year -old- woman - married forty-four years …..who raised two kids — I found myself asking myself — “what might I have done?’
I wondered ‘what my husband might have done?’ —
I had an interesting conversation with my husband about this book.
We ‘both’ — suddenly— lost a parent to death as a young child. Without realizing it — until married- and especially after having children - occasionally a behavior showed up in one of us triggered from our past from our traumatic experiences —
Therapy made a ‘great’ difference in our earlier years of marriage— but we were not consciously hiding information from one another.

The author is this book painted - and explored an important scenario— one that interested me very much.

If I didn’t feel so weak at the moment— with covid —(my husband and I tested positive together: first time)… I’d try to write a better review -
perhaps I’ll come back when feeling better.
But for starters I soooo want to especially thank the author. I already bought her earlier book to read — I loved her writing - the water symbolism- the characters - the psychological depth - the narrative- the dialogues — even the occasional humor in the middle of sadness….

My friend Bonnie wrote an outstanding review — I couldn’t agree more with what she wrote.
I’ll be telling ( already have started) telling my
close friends to read it.
It’s exactly the type of novel I love
A big thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for the opportunity to read an early copy.


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On the surface, Emilia and Bruch appear to have a stellar marriage. Bruch is an internist/rheumatologst specializing in auto-immune conditions. Emilia is a statistician, focusing on the data rather than what comprises the numbers and bell curves. They have two young sons and live on the outskirts of Amsterdam, outside of the dikes.

One evening they go to a play and after it's over Emilia goes looking for Bruch. As she is looking around, a male acquaintance comes up behind her and covers her eyes and mouth while pushing up against her. To him, it's just a joke. To Emilia, it is a trigger for her Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, triggering memories of an assault and rape that she was subject to about a decade ago. For whatever, reason, she has never told Bruch about this and, after this 'joke', she begins to decompensate.

As a clinical social worker and psychotherapist, I was taken by the psychological dynamics of this novel. Emilia has done everything she can to repress her memories and now they are welling up. I found Bruch's work as an auto-immune specialist fascinating in that it focuses on the body attacking its own self. As the rain beats down on Amsterdam, and Emeilia and Bruch, are at more and more risk, I couldn't help but think of Emilia's flooding of emotions coming at her.

Emilia and Bruch are at a crisis. She is conflicted about telling him about her assault, wondering if she waited too long and 'why now'?. She begins acting in ways incongruent with her usual self, ruminating on her attack and its impact of her life. Bruch senses there is something wrong but Emilia is loathe to let anything out. Instead, she dallies in self-harm - driving while under the influence, drinking too much, and pushing Bruch out of her circumference.

The novel, by Marijke Schermer, is brilliantly written and I applaud the excellence of its translation from the Dutch by Liz Waters. The narrative is smooth and poetic; past and present may be superimposed but it is always clear where the protagonist is in her personal history.

I read this book in two sittings and it was difficult to come up for air. It is both tender and visceral. I was able to share Emilia's torments and struggles to overcome her fate as a 'victim'. The novel is especially pertinent in the vortex of the 'me too' movement. It speaks not only to an assault and rape, but to the aftermath of a life halted by violence and the difficulty of attempting to resume what was once taken for granted.

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Breakwater is a beautiful, lyrical, literary novel that is both very accessible and very difficult to read.

The author has written: “In Breakwater I wanted to explore the idea of nurturing secrets for self-protection, and it is partly thanks to the writing of this book that I am now searching more for openness and candor, because not speaking can also make you lonely. So I try to fight the reticence in myself, stretching myself up and out, and in this way also reaching out more to others.”

This book is so, so good, but very painful, especially if you have been personally affected by some of the issues handled here. It should come with a trigger warning, with themes of rape and violence against women.

Even when a painful past is known about, it's usually not spoken about. This book is broadly speaking about the long-term effects of sexual violence, and more specifically about isolation, about how the 'not speaking' can make you lonely. About how incredibly hard it is to speak up. About how being a victim makes you an untouchable, somehow revolting, to yourself and to others.

This book will make many readers sad, make them grieve, perhaps for themselves, perhaps for others they know, perhaps just for the innumerable anonymous victims everywhere.

It surprises-doesn't-surprise-me how, despite how prevalent sexual violence is, there are so few novels that tackle it head on. We all remember #metoo but did you ever know anyone who used it to go public about their own experience? Nobody? No-one in the maybe hundreds of people you know, your social media friends and follows. How many came forward? Nobody? And yet it is estimated that more than 1 in 5 women have been sexually assaulted...

It's ALL about the silence.

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This book details a relationship breakdown, interspersed with flashbacks to a previous assault and set against the backdrop of severe flooding - claustrophobic and brilliant!

Thanks to NetGalley for the ARC!

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Like her debut, Love, If That’s What It Is, Marijke Schermer’s new novel explores a marriage, this one built upon a shocking secret kept for so long there seems no going back until a thoughtless act triggers traumatic memories than can no longer be buried.

Emilia and Burch are rushing to get to the theatre in Amsterdam, getting the children to bed before driving from their isolated home. At the end of the performance, they become separated. Emilia wanders off to the bar, takes her drink outside and leans over the balcony. When someone grabs her from behind, she lets herself go limp, falling to the ground, shocking her friend Frank who thought he was playing a harmless prank but his behaviour has triggered memories of a brutal rape by a stranger that she chose to keep from Burch. Over the next few months, Emilia begins to unravel until a revelation is made which rocks her faith in her marriage.

There are echoes of #MeToo in Schermer’s novel. Frank’s thoughtless grab would have been discomfiting to any women let alone one who had suffered such an attack and the behaviour of Emilia’s friend and colleague towards their intern is inexcusable although her reaction offers hope of progress. Emilia’s decision not to tell Burch about the rape is based on protecting their relationship but it doesn’t acknowledge the damage done to her, nor the effort of keeping a secret she had begun to feel might be better told. Hers is a powerful, graphic narrative written with the same compassion and empathy that characterised Schermer’s first novel

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