Portrait of Stella by Susan Wuthrich

One perfectly normal Monday, Jemima Ashton receives a letter that will change her life. She finds out there are no records of her existence in the UK system and her birth certificate appears to be a forgery. 

With an imminent investigation happening, she is out on a quest for answers leading her to her late mother Stella’s past and everything she had ever known about herself and her parents is turned upside down.  

Portrait of Stella is a tale of a woman’s search to discover who she is, of old family secrets and a history wrought of disparity. Spanning from the tumultuous years of the Second World War to the dawning changes of early twenty first century, Jemima’s journey takes her to an abandoned vineyard where a shocking surprise awaits her. In short, it reads like a vintage family saga but with a dash of modern writing style.

Susan Wuthrich’s debut novel pulsates with remarkable drama, thorough research and well-developed characters.  I immensely enjoyed reading it. Both background stories and the present story were treated with fair interest and perhaps noticeable restraint. Wuthrich carried it all through flashbacks and jumping accounts with much substance without hampering readers with heavy historical details or drawn out mystery.

It does not only portray a family's troubles within themselves but societal issues also plays a pivotal role into it and they were woven into the story as believably as it could. As much as it is a good summer read, this is a very good eye-opener in putting awareness to apartheid laws and other sensitive matters.

Jemima is an admirable character despite her vulnerabilities (or it could be insecurities but who doesn't have that?). But for me, Sannie has totally won me over with her strength, levelheadedness and compassion. No one in the book was created like a filler to fit into the scenes.

As the story neared to a close, I did think the pace got a little bit hurried (or perhaps I didn't want it to end soon?) and I have wanted to find out more what happened further to the rest of the characters. From the detailed style it maintained more than halfway through, it turned a bit spotty there at the end.

Still I was not inclined to pull away. Let a woman travel some place, dig out some mystery, throw in flashbacks, a slice of romance and I am pretty likely to get engaged.


A fake birth certificate! No record of her existence in the UK data base. Jemima Ashton is desperate to discover her real identity. With scant information and the burning question 'who am I?', she embarks on an incredible journey of detection.

On learning of her late mother Stella's disappearance during WWII, she retraces her footsteps across the globe and at a distant vineyard, unearths a family she had no idea existed. While treading a path of narrow-minded bigotry, scandalous revelations emerge of two families inextricably linked by one woman and the drastic steps they took to hide the truth.

Title: Portrait of Stella
Author: Susan Wuthrich
Genre: Historical, Women Fiction, Romance
Published: June 2014
Publisher: Troubadour
Rating: ♨♨♨♨ (4 cups - History, crime and romance converge on this well-written family saga.)