The Atlas of Everywhere
A poignant autobiographical novel about living between multiple cultures and the search for an unknowable father
The author Deniz Kuypers lives in San Francisco, but grew up in the Netherlands in a family with a Dutch mother and an often-absent Turkish father. In his much-acclaimed and largely autobiographical third novel, he recounts his quest to find out where he is from and why it is so difficult for him to put down roots anywhere.
Before Kuypers’ father came to the Netherlands, he was a poet in the Turkish countryside. His family moved to Germany in search of work. He then moved on once again, to Amsterdam, only to end up in Hengelo, where he found a job as a Turkish teacher. He left his wife and children behind in Turkey. In Hengelo, he started a new relationship with the woman who was to become Deniz Kuypers’ mother.
Kuypers’ father frequently travels to Turkey to spend time with his other family. Kuypers never gets to meet his half-siblings in Turkey. His father never learns Dutch; Deniz doesn’t learn Turkish. There is talk of them moving to Turkey one day, but that never comes to pass.
Growing up, Kuypers would see his father sitting in the living room in silence, smoking cigarettes, surrounded by books. They never really connected, except through arguments, anger and aggression. Why was his father like that? It’s not until many years later, after his move to the US, that Kuypers decides to use fiction in an attempt to reconstruct the facts that always remained beyond his reach.
The result is a thoughtful, painstaking and compelling exploration of his father’s past and his own, full of candour and self-examination. It turns out that there is a secret at the heart of his father’s life story, involving a murder he committed back in Turkey for which he served time in prison. Kuypers barely knows any of the details, but he fills in the blanks in an impressive way that recalls Paul Auster’s The Invention of Solitude, which similarly deals with a murder in the author’s family history.
Ultimately, this book is not just a quest for the past – it’s also an attempt to find a way to live on as a father with a family of his own even though he never felt seen by his own father. The story culminates in a moving apotheosis which sees Kuypers renewing contact with his father, even if the two men remain silent as Kuypers walks along the beach and hears the crackle of static all the way from the Netherlands on the other end of the line.