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Nelson Foley
The Bridge to Rembrandt
When Robert crossed the bridge, he wasn’t expecting anything out of the ordinary. He was on the way to meet his girlfriend, but when he reached the other side, she didn’t know who he was. Robert finds himself thrown back in time, further and further, reliving the history of Amsterdam through war, riots and the plague. Each time, his fate is bound up with the same woman, and with the work of the Netherlands' greatest painter, Rembrandt. Robert is caught in a race against time. Will he make it back to his normal life? Or will he be trapped in the past with his discovery as his insulin runs out?
Foley’s literary historical debut offers an intimate glimpse into the history of Amsterdam as seen through the eyes of Robert, a middle-aged man of the present with a wife and kids, struggling to balance his work, married life, and a girlfriend. Through a chance acquisition, Robert finds himself traveling back in time to three significant historical moments in Amsterdam’s history. Each time, he encounters his girlfriend, Saskia, in a different period, embarking on the entire process of courting her again—and ultimately, getting to know her more intimately. Amid all of this, Rembrandt is a constant refrain: Robert meets the painter himself and discovers that there’s a secret waiting for him in the present, if only he can safely get here.

Bride to Rembrandt proces strongest when illuminating the romantic relationship between Robert and Saskia, which metamorphosizes each time Robert travels back in time. By the end of the book, readers will feel genuine regard for these two time travelers, as well as hope that they will end up happy together. Narrative momentum suffers, though, from Foley’s disparate interests, which don’t always fit seamlessly together: the love story, Robert’s interest in painting, the logic of time travelling, and his diabetic problems. Foley’s prose exhibits a light touch (on IKEA: “​​The flat-pack packaging was a genial invention that led to the love–hate relationship with the Allen key, and a lot of domestic arguments.”) though some dialogue edges toward the unnatural.

The story gathers welcome momentum towards the second half, propelling readers into Robert and Saskia’s precarious adventures through time. Foley spices it all with little-known social, historical, and architectural tidbits about Amsterdam, a piquant introduction to the city for the uninitiated. Rembrandt is not as central to the narrative as the title suggests, but he plays a significant role in the climax. Lovers of romance, art, and European history will find much to enjoy here.

Takeaway: This Amsterdam time-travel novel takes an ambitious dive into love, history, and art.

Great for fans of: Jack Finney’s Time and Again, Sylvie Matton’s Rembrandt’s Whore.

Production grades
Cover: B+
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: B
Marketing copy: B