A Bed in Heaven by Tessa de Loo (thoughts)
I put my previously-scheduled post for today on hold so that I could squeak in to Iris’ Month of Dutch Literature. It took me awhile to decide which book I wanted to choose as my first foray into Dutch writing (you can see the potentials if you’re curious), but in the end this one just called to me; I’m more interested in women than men authors right now and I didn’t want to start with a mystery/thriller novel. Plus, I suddenly realised it was almost the end of the month, so its 140-page length helped seal the deal! ;) The funny thing is, if I’d read enough of the blurb to realise it centered on WWII, I probably wouldn’t have picked it; I tend to avoid WII Europe in my reading. It would have been a shame to miss out on this one, so I’m glad I have a policy of never really reading publisher summaries!
The thing I loved most was de Loo’s writing. It is confident and sure, as well as spare: each word does what it needs to and there’s no fat around the edges. It’s written in first person, and I believed the narrator’s voice and character from the opening paragraph (click on image to enlarge):
The rest of the book is an exploration of the narrator’s relationship with her father, a Hungarian Jew who lost all of his family except one brother in WWII, and his family, as well as of course a description of how through a series of coincidences she meets a young man who may or may not be her father’s son. It jumps back in time to when the narrator is much younger, still figuring out who she is and her place in the scheme of things; I loved how deftly de Loo handled that college coming-of-age age period. De Loo also obviously knows the importance of family stories, the things that get passed on to each generation about the generations that came before.
This was a subtle, touching, gentle novella that I’d highly recommend to anyone who enjoys that type of literature. It’s far more about characters than plot, about the internal than external life, and yet I get the sense that how the individuals in the story deal with the guilt and aftermath of WWII is reflective of Europe’s own need to come to terms with it. I’ll definitely be reading de Loo’s other (much longer) novel, The Twins. And thanks to Iris for giving me the incentive to pick this one up!