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Jill Kandel

The Clean Daughter: A Cross-Continental Memoir

July 7, 2022
4 PM PDT | 5 PM MDT | 6 PM CDT | 7 PM EDT

Every marriage is complicated, but a cross-cultural one even more so. I grew up in North Dakota and, at the age of twenty-five, married a man from the Netherlands. My new husband was an agriculturalist working with subsistence farmers. We moved to Zambia and lived a village so remote it took an eight-hour canoe ride to reach it. Our first two children were born in the village. After six years there, we moved to the highlands of Indonesia and worked with small-scale coffee farmers for three years.

Adapting to a cross-cultural marriage while living in these remote areas was both demanding and delightful. Trying to understand my Dutch father-in-law, was another matter. Izaak was a pastor with a fondness for prestige, protocol, and punctuality. We never had the relationship I hoped for. Beneath his calm demeanor and clerical garb, Izaak carried the wounds of growing up in Nazi- Occupied Holland. Childhood chaos led him to become a man who had all the answers.

For everyone. Except himself.

When Izaak decided to end his life – while still a healthy man – using legalized euthanasia in the Netherlands, our tumultuous relationship was over. But I couldn’t move on. Ten years later, still exhausted by thoughts of Izaak, I returned to the Netherlands searching for understanding.

The Clean Daughter is a story of building family across cultural, linguistic, and geographical divides. The complicated ways families both destroy and heal one another underpin my story of a family held together by tenacity, curiosity, and courage.

I began writing at the age of forty, winning both the Autumn House Nonfiction Prize and the Sarton Women’s Literary Award for my first book So Many Africas: Six Years in a Zambian Village. Writing is my way of making sense of a life lived on four continents and a cross-cultural marriage that has lasted over forty years.

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