Whole Stories for a Half Soldier
A stunning frame narrative about storytelling as a survival strategy
Six brothers are called up to go to war. They pass a border guard who demands a donation for the peace effort from each of the brothers. The brothers own nothing, but they do have stories to tell. This is a constant in Lindelauf’s work: in his award-winning masterpiece De hemel van Heivisj (published in English as Fing’s War), it’s also stories that save the characters when nothing else remains.
In Whole Stories for a Half Soldier, the brothers try, against their better judgment, to keep the war at bay by telling stories. ‘There’s no better medicine for the horrors of this world than the horrors of the imagination,’ a character observes in the story of the Fifth-Eldest Brother.
There’s also another reason why the brothers are so passionate about telling stories, a reason that remains hidden from the reader for a long time and which is connected to the Youngest Brother. Readers of Lindelauf’s previous novel Hoe Tortot zijn vissenhart verloor (published in English as Tortot, the Cold Fish Who Lost His World and Found His Heart) will recognise him as Half-George, the young deserter in the gherkin barrel who lost his legs on the battlefield.
Whole Stories for a Half Soldier is the prequel to that anti-war parable, although the book also stands alone. In this new frame story, Lindelauf performs at the peak of his stylistic skill; his evocative language sparkles and glows.
The stories, set in an unspecified past and coated with a delicious layer of cruelty, couple strange events with a sublime realism. A baker cooks orphans in his pies, a mother sells her tiny daughter (‘as delicate as a piece of lacework, her head would fit inside a ladle’), a boy is so beautiful that the people in his village would like to murder him – the horror is casually incorporated in stunningly beautiful prose that is reminiscent of the magic realism of Patrick Süskind and Gabriel García Márquez.
Ludwig Volbeda, who also illustrated Tortot, has completed this masterful book with his melancholic pictures of desolate desert landscapes in faded colours.