The father of all fathers
Toon Tellegen’s animal stories were originally published under Querido’s children’s book fund, but have now been compiled for an adult audience. An unusual, but quite understandable development. Tellegen is a self-willed writer who is difficult to place into any of the accepted literary pigeonholes and now readers of all ages have discovered his remarkable animal forest. A delightful place for language lovers who are wont to entertain strange thoughts now and again. Here, the profound brooding of Tellegen’s poetry for adults finds an endearing, comical counterpart without losing its serious undertone.
The register of My Father, in which a small boy tells about his extraordinary father, is light. The book is beautifully designed and Rotraut Susanne Berner’s absurdist drawings make the relationships immediately evident. Father is a giant – but a visible and friendly one – an overgrown rascal in enormous trainers with strange glasses and an odd shock of hair. His son, Jozef, is a mini-person with a big head, who looks up to his father in every sense of the word.
Jozef draws a portrait of this awe-inspiring being, who knows everything and can do everything: catch thieves, become invisible, put out fires, hold back bulldozers and stop the war. Father whispers him the answers at school, knows better than the doctor and throws the horrible swimming teacher into his own horrible swimming pool.
The form is that of all Tellegen’s prose: a seemingly random number of short passages – without any apparent order or cohesion – in which the same characters continually appear. There is also a clear Von Münchhausen-style tendency towards tall stories. Just as, in the animal stories, the elephant flies and sits on the branch of a tree, and just as Miss Stove is the epitome of pedagogic pestilence, this is about the father of all fathers. It is precisely the way the age of unconditional belief and trust in paternal omnipotence is seen through childish eyes that ensures that this tall tale will be recognised by all readers as a true story, in essence.