Gran Café Boulevard
A European love story
Gran Café Boulevard has much in common with an old-fashioned adventure novel, with its sprawling narrative and the role played by chance. However, Lieske’s baroque style, and his near-sensual delight in exploring unexpected side-paths make this book an exercise in madness and a literary feast. A melancholy tone is set straightaway, in the prologue. ‘No summer spread such a strong, almost resilient happiness over the grassland between the Wide Aa and the three pools as that summer of 1924.’
The young Taco Albronda is given a sign from above that whatever flights of fancy his thoughts take, however many lies he tells, he will be able to twist everyone round his little finger and direct his life like ‘an amusing comedy’. He takes the suggestion seriously. When we meet him again as an adult in June 1944 on the train to Bilbao, his parents have died rather dramatically, his sisters have mysteriously disappeared and he has assumed a new identity – Alexander Rothweill. He has become a professional forger, working first for the Allies but switching to the Nazis when he finds out they pay better. In the train he meets Pili Eguren, a Spanish woman brought up in a convent after her Basque parents were murdered by Franco’s men. In extensive flashbacks Lieske describes each of their lives, which come together at the Gran Café Boulevard, in Bilbao. ‘Rothweill’ and Eguren are wellmatched, in the secrets that they keep hidden from each other; the love that grows between them is mixed with shame and deceit from the start. When they flee Franco’s regime in the early 1950s and seek refuge in the Netherlands, the ‘amusing comedy’ has become a thing of the past. Taco’s brother Fedde who had stayed behind in the family home also takes on an alias and he, too, is drawn irresistibly to the boggy polders of South Holland, setting in motion the ambitious denouement of the novel. In Gran Café Boulevard Lieske shows the individual struggling against his destiny, against the background of the political and cultural history of twentieth-century Europe. He lays bare the mechanisms underlying the interaction between characters who scarcely dare face themselves, let alone one another.