The Seed Woman

Written by Edwin Miles (trans.) Petra Durst-Benning
Review by Elicia Parkinson

The first book in Petra Durst-Benning’s Seed Traders’ Saga was published in Germany in 2005, though has not been translated to English until now. The story begins in the mid-19th century in Germany, with Hannah arriving in Gönningen after an arduous journey in an effort to find Helmut, the seed merchant with whom she had fallen in love before he moved on in his travels. He is to marry a local beauty, Seraphine, though with Hannah’s unexpected arrival, everyone’s lives are significantly altered. The novel follows the various relationships among Hannah, Helmut, Seraphine, and Helmut’s brother, Valentin, as they try to learn to live and work together in a highly dysfunctional family dynamic.

While much of the story takes place in Germany at the bottom of the Swabian Mountains, the family travels to Holland as well as part of their seed-trading business. Durst-Benning has written an interesting and accessible story about seed merchants in the 1850s in Germany, a topic that has not, to my knowledge, been given a lot of attention in literature.

Reading this reminded me at times of Sigrid Undset’s Kristin Lavransdatter, a Norwegian story of similar breadth, following the trials and tribulations of a young woman trying to find her place in a time and a space that is not necessarily forgiving. It will be interesting to see where the saga goes from here, since so much ground was covered in the first installment building up the relationships among the characters by their shared experiences. Recommended.