by Marcel Möring
was written in 1997 by this Dutch writer, who was born in 1957 in Enschede and now lives in Rotterdam
. The books opens with a quotation
( somehow I especially like books who quote something at the beginning ) “Trees
have roots, Jews
have legs” ( Isaac Deutscher ).
So basically this is the long story of the Jewish family Hollander told by the novel´s protagonist Nathan. He is a fairytale- writer, but when his uncle Herman dies, he leaves him his house and his library on the condition that he puts down the family´s story. So by and by we get to know the first members of the family :Uncle Chaim and his nephew Magnus ( characters from the 17th centuries ) who started visiting Nathan from his childhood onwards and tell him about the family´s tendencies to be always on the move, which is most of the time moving westwards. Over Poland and Germany, starting out in 17th century they finally settle for eight generations in Rotterdam in the west of the Netherlands. When in 1939 the eighth and ninth generation stand on the ship that is to carry them to New York it seems to be more than leaving a place but the continuation of their pilgrimage, looking for a home.
Finding home is also the theme of Nathan, now near sixty. The story of the family is interwoven with bits of his childhood memories, fairy-tales and him and his niece Nina making their way to Uncle Hermans house where they are finally stuck because of heavy winterstorms.
Nina is the character in the novel I somehow found unconvincing, maybe because her motivation remains unclear until the end. She is the maybe-child of Nathans brother Zeno, who became a Messiah-figure in the late Sixties and then just disappears. He is the character I liked to read most about- not speaking until he is five, and then suddenly falling off a chair and staying in bed for an entire year reading- later on weird shows with him as a mixture of magician and a Messiah, he is portrayed as a deeply troubled child and man, for whom it is nearly impossible to deal with the concepts of reality and time. Pain, he says, is the most devestating human emotion. Pain we feel only when it´s too late. When something can be made up for, we don´t talk of pain.Maybe remorse or feelings of guilt. But pain, as I understand it, is grieving over the irreversibility of things.
It is hinted at, but never really stated that he commits suicide.
Especially reading about the family´s emigration to America and chronologically before that, their time in the Netherlands is really worthwhile. It´s written with a lot of imagination, fluency, irony, wit and love for the characters.
When Nina finally seduces Nathan and he thinks that he has finally made it home the story turns again. I don´t want to give away the end, but I found it unconvincing and –similar to Mulisch´s novels ( who is also an excellent Dutch writer )- a try to somehow offer up a clue, a new twist, even though that wouldn´t have been necessary. In the end, we are not reading a crime story, we don´t want to know that the gardener did it. But nevertheless it´s a novel I can recommend.