By Jean Zimmerman
Viking, $27.95, 432 pages

The premise of The Orphanmastersounds intriguing since it is about New Amsterdam (Manhattan) in the late 1600’s. Jean Zimmerman is a noted nonfiction writer with vast knowledge of seventeenth century Manhattan. Manhattan at this time could be likened to the Wild West and so I expected a great story with interesting characters. The story surrounds Blandine van Couvering, a merchant; a 22-year-old orphan, Edward Drummond; a mystery man, a crazed Indian named Kitane and the orphanmaster, Aet Visser. Several children are missing or found dead and Blandine is interested in getting to the bottom of the mystery. Yet many townspeople think Blandine should mind her own business since they are African American kids. There is a grave distrust of the African Americans and the local Indians that surround Manhattan.

Although it is interesting to read about Manhattan when it was just forming as a community, the characters were neither engaging nor believable. This reviewer struggled to get through this book because the cast of characters were confusing and the writing mimicked nonfiction prose rather than truly a story that entertained and mesmerized.

Reviewed by Seniye Groff