Portrait of Stella by Susan Wüthrich

★★★★  Portrait of Stella is the story of a thirty-three-year-old woman named Jemima Ashton and her journey to learn about her parents.  In the beginning of the book, Jemima is denied a passport and learns that her birth certificate is a forgery.  Wanting to find out why it would have been forged, Jemima travels from Birmingham to London to try and get things sorted out at the Registrar of Births, Marriages, and Deaths Office. There, she learns that the birth certificate was probably made in one of the former colonies, possibly Australia or New Zealand.  Jemima visits her grandmother to find out more, since her mother passed away about a year prior to her passport being denied, and her father had died when he was forty. Talking with her grandmother, and later her mother’s friend Margery, Jemima begins to piece together the events of Stella’s life. In an effort to discover even more information about her parents, Jemima travels to New Zealand, then heads to South Africa after realizing New Zealand was a dead end.

Portrait of Stella crosses back and forth between Jemima’s life in the 1980’s to Stella’s life in the 1940’s and 50’s.  The book tells of Stella’s life during World War II, and delves into the topic of racism many times during both women’s stories.  Other dark subjects discussed in the book are rape, prostitution, murder, and apartheid. This book, however, is mostly about love, loss, new beginnings, and is as well a journey of self-discovery and the reuniting of family and friends. Ultimately, Wüthrich shows how life is so often an unpredictable balance of beautiful moments and heart-wrenching tragedy—and that is exactly why we must fight for each new day with a fresh heart.

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