Leo Pleysier

Leo Pleysier first gained a wide audience with Wit is altijd schoon (White is Always Nice, 1989), a wonderful tribute to a dead mother, filling the ears of the author with an incessant stream of words, as she lies on view. In subsequent books, De kast (The Cupboard, 1991) and Zwart van het volk (Thick as Flies, 1996) among them, Pleysier lets various family members speak in their own idiom of their far from idyllic childhood in the countryside and how they grew up to cope with modern-day Flanders. The odd one out was De Gele Rivier is bevrozen (The Yellow River is Frozen, 1993), the views and recollections of Flanders of an aunt who has emigrated to China and India, and has become painfully alienated from her roots. The family cycle is rounded off with Volgend jaar in Berchem (Next Year in Berchem, 2000), in which the father, a controversial figure of their youth, is discussed at family gatherings and the narrator himself wisely keeps silent in the orchestra of voices. Pleysier’s work has won numerous awards, the Belgian National Prize for Prose among them.

Black with People

(De Bezige Bij, 1996, 141 pages)

A young Fleming studies agricultural engineering in Louvain, gains his doctorate in soil science and at the age of twenty-eight leaves for Nigeria to carry out research, leaving behind his mother, with whom he has lived in the countryside until then. Ten years later he receives news of his mother’s death. Her funeral has already taken place by the time his sister finally reaches him on the phone. Sand, clay, mud and slime: these days he knew every last detail about them. But he still understood far less about that noise and hubbub down below.’

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Next Year in Berchem

(De Geus, 2000, 144 pages)

In 1989 Leo Pleysier started writing a series of books in which various family members talk about their lives and about the way in which they deal with their own memories. The mother (Wit is altijd schoon,1989), the sister (De kast, 1991), the nun-aunt (De Gele Rivier is bevrozen, 1993) and the brother (Zwart van het volk, 1996) have all come up for review. In Volgend jaar in Berchem it is the father who is the central character, but with one important difference. Unlike in the previous novels, the central character does not speak.

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The Doctor’s Bag

The Doctor’s Bag

(De Bezige Bij, 2004, 74 pages)

In The Doctor’s Bag Leo Pleysier presents Auntie Roza, an elderly missionary nun, talking about her life in a convent in south India and in the hospital the order built up there from scratch. What work she can still manage she carries out with great conviction, but she is aware that times have irrevocably changed. The Indian government is tightening its grip on the hospital, setting impossible demands on the recruitment of Indian nuns and nurses. Her fellow-nuns’ attitudes too have shifted, thanks to changes in the Church and in society.

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