A Dutch mother-to-be strives to vindicate her future child’s namesake.
Each chapter begins with a week-by-week countdown to the first-person narrator’s due date, which is also her deadline for finding out the truth about her “distant uncle” Frans. That narrator is Marjolijn van Heemstra herself, and this novel, van Heemstra’s second, is drawn directly from life. When she was 18, Marjolijn’s grandmother gave her Frans’ ring since he died without any descendants. In return, Marjolijn has agreed to name her firstborn son after Frans, a hero of the Dutch resistance. Years later (exactly how many is not clear), her pregnancy forces the issue; she is hormone- and conscience-driven to learn whether Frans’ name is worthy of being passed on. After the war, on Dec. 5, 1946, her uncle masterminded a bomb attack on a man named Boer, an alleged Nazi collaborator who was never punished. Frans was prosecuted and imprisoned for what, in peacetime, was a crime. Though preeclampsia threatens, Marjolijn takes furtive trips from her Amsterdam home to the National Archive in the Hague while her partner, D, is at work. The facts defy Marjolijn’s every effort to verify Frans’ heroism. Boer’s collaboration was considered de minimis—he rounded up pigeons for the Wehrmacht. The bomb, delivered in a wrapped package to Boer’s home on St. Nicholas Eve, also killed innocent bystanders, but, of this “collateral damage,” Frans remarked, “These things happen.” The supreme irony: Frans later founded a right-wing group with ties to ex-Nazis. The book is brutally honest about pregnancy, abortion, and living with ambiguity. Wry observations abound, well served by Reeder’s translation; for instance, on the archive’s proximity to a children’s book museum, van Heemstra says, “one wrong turn and you’re in the realm of fairy tales.” In view of the novel’s firm grounding in fact, one wonders why van Heemstra didn’t simply write a memoir. Perhaps because fiction accommodates any number of wrong turns. The novel ends with an existential shrug, but perhaps that’s the point.
Sometimes rabbit holes contain only rabbits.
Pub Date: yesterday
Page Count: 208
Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2020
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2020