Caesar and the Story Father
An unforgettably beautiful, comforting book
There are few children’s books in which the melancholy surrounding death is treated so gently, gracefully and lyrically as in Caesar and the Story Father. Caesar is an eight-year-old boy, who lives with his father, a hatter, on the edge of the woods, behind the dunes. His name is actually Arie, but because he was born by caesarean his parents called him Caesar. He likes to sit in his secret place in the dunes and call himself ‘emperor of the dunes’.
He has never known his mother; she disappeared from his life when he was less than a year old. One evening, she wanted to go for a short walk to the beach by herself. She never returned and her body was never recovered. Caesar’s father often tells stories about his mother. That she was actually a mermaid and longed to go back to the sea. That she finally did so, without saying goodbye properly to them. Caesar would love to believe that his mother is a mermaid, but is well aware that she is dead. That contradiction brings out a strong aspect of the book: it is rich in fantasy, and yet has both feet firmly on the ground.
Caesar does not miss his mother – he has never known her – but seeks contact with her with all the power of his imagination: ‘Wherever you are, Mama, in the sea under the waves, or maybe nowhere at all, it’s me, Arie, but everyone calls me Caesar.’ On her birthday, Caesar throws a letter in a bottle into the sea for her, even though he knows full well his mother is not really swimming around there: ‘It’s just a story. But it is a really good story.’
There is a wonderful moment when Caesar find twelve gloves on the beach and sets them on sticks, so he can wave to his mother with twelve hands. And then there is the moving passage where his father talks of his broken heart after his mother disappeared: ‘My heart continued to beat, but it had forgotten for whom and why.’
Caesar lives in an idyllic world, without computers, traffic jams or advertisements. But it is a benevolent world, with room to assimilate grief in a creative, sometimes even meditative manner. That is what makes Caesar and the Story Father such an unforgettably beautiful, comforting book.
Lieke van Duin