The Towers of February
In 2004, Tonke Dragt won an award for the best children’s book of the previous five decades: De brief voor de koning (The Letter for the King, 1962). However, she received most fan mail for De torens van februari (The Towers of February, 1973), the incomparable sciencefiction story that according to Dragt herself is perhaps her ‘best’ book.
The book’s large number of fans were probably won over by its classic diary form. Dragt pretends, most convincingly, that she is only the bearer of a found manuscript, which she has presented in a readable form and provided with footnotes. This clever, carefully employed literary technique increases the illusion of authenticity, confusing and intriguing the reader and creating a sense of ‘this-really-might-all-be-true’. The exciting literary thought-experiment upon which the story hinges is the idea that other worlds might exist: mirrored worlds whose different time dimensions intersect every leap year between 29 February and 1 April, creating a moment when it is possible to step from one world into another, as long as the right word, which Dragt keeps secret, is spoken.
Fourteen-year-old Tom Wit succeeds in doing this, following the old scholar Thomas Alva. However, the consequence is a loss of memory. And so when he arrives in ‘world X’ at the beginning of this astonishing story, Tom doesn’t know who or where he is. In the vivid, familiar language of a diary, Tom provides an evocative four-part account of his quest to find his identity, the actual theme of the book, supplemented by notes added by Alva, newspaper clippings about his disappearance and a letter to his brother.
Helped by the diary entries that he wrote in our world, in mirror writing that he first has to decipher, Tom, who feels incomplete, manages to rediscover his past, together with Alva. Does Tom then decide to leave ‘world X’, where the failings of our society appear not to exist? Or does he choose for the here and now of ‘world X’ and for Téja, his great love? Although Dragt presents her speculations in a postscript, these questions remain unanswered. Because ‘the correct answer’ and ‘the truth’ don’t exist – as anyone who reads the wonderful, philosophical De torens van februari will wholeheartedly agree.
By Mirjam Noorduijn