Books: Survivor's Tale

A stunning novel about the scorching legacy of loss

There are childhood traumas--and then there is what happened to Ellen van Bemmel in Renate Dorrestein's stunning novel A Heart of Stone (Viking; 244 pages; $23.95), translated from the Dutch by Hester Velmans. In the early '70s, in a quiet suburb of Haarlem, Ellen's psychotic mother killed three of her five children, her husband and herself. Believing she was saving her loved ones from evil, Margreet van Bemmel fed them tranquilizers and put bags over their heads. Ellen and a young brother escaped by hiding in the cellar.

A lifetime of psychotherapy would not seem excessive. But after 25 years, Ellen,...

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