The Fireworks Master
An impressive social vision
De Stoop turned to fiction with De vuurwerkmeester (‘The Fireworks Master’) a novel that is well documented and has a strong social background. In it, the fireworks theme serves as metaphor for fifty years of economic and cultural history in Belgium.
The story centres around the Vidal family, firework-makers in Antwerp, narrated by Barbara, the daughter and granddaughter. The Vidals are renowned fireworkmakers, respectable and proud of their craftsmanship, who are nevertheless wiped out by freebooter colleagues and by cheap, prefabricated imports from China. A lax application of safety regulations leads eventually to great disaster on the quays of Antwerp.
The novel has the structure of a classic fireworks festival with four tableaux and an explosive apotheosis. Barbara looks back on her life from the desolate family home adjoining the fireworks factory as she waits for its demolition. Her story begins when she was a baby at the fireworks festival at the opening of the 1958 World Exhibition, and a burning sparkler in her eye half-blinds her. In compensation she develops an intense awareness of colour, especially fond of a blue which cannot be reproduced. This becomes the symbol of her unfulfilled life.
Even more impressive than this personal story is the sketch of the major developments of the past fifty years: the sacrifice of rural life and authenticity for progress, the switch from the developmental enthusiasm and welfare optimism of the fifties to cut-throat international competition, the abandonment of traditional personal pride in favour of bulk turnover, often involving criminal recklessness and irresponsible risk-taking. The book also contains features of global economic and political development. The West, with its social guarantees and economic ethics, can offer no resistance to the rapid rise of China as an economic superpower. With the aid of this story of a family with its solidly professional traditions, De Stoop unfolds a wide and impressive social vision of the process of globalization in a more penetrating manner than any piece of journalism could have done.