In search of a true identity
The seed of Tommy Wieringa’s new novel, the hefty Caesarion, was planted even before the resounding success of its predecessor, Joe Speedboat. Several years ago Wieringa read a report about the child conceived by Cicciolina with Jeff Koons.
The porn star and the anything-goes artist who fills the world’s museums with überkitsch had called their son Ludwig, after Ludwig of Bavaria, who plundered the state coffers to build insanely elaborate castles high in the mountains. A child as conceptual art.
Wieringa wanted to know what kind of person would emerge from such a twisted, crazy, mythical marriage. What would his motivations be? The novel is in some senses the answer to that question.
As a boy, Ludwig Unger – Wieringa’s hero is also called Ludwig – lives with his mother on the edge of the cliff, in King’s Ness, a small village on the east coast of England, in a woodworm-infested timber house. All goes well for several years, until the sea washes away so much of the coast that they have to abandon their home, which is lost to a storm. ‘The house toppled over its empty axis with astonishing lightness and slid groaning and screeching into the depths.’ Ludwig’s settled existence ends in that instant and he sets off in search of his true identity and a place that can offer him a sense of homecoming. He seeks a new equilibrium between himself and his mother and resolves to get to know his father, the destructive, megalomaniac artist Bodo Schultz, who left when he was small. ‘Only destruction,’ Schultz preaches, ‘has a permanent character.’ Ludwig travels the world in his quest, from Alexandria via England to Los Angeles, Vienna and Prague, places where Ludwig’s mother revives her old profession as a porn actress. When his mother becomes terminally ill he returns with her to her birthplace, a rural farmhouse in the Dutch province of Groningen.
The apparently infinite roadtrip ends in El Real, deep in the primeval forests of Panama, where Ludwig hopes to find his father. The scenes set there reflect the famous ending of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Wieringa plays the game of references with verve, but more important in Caesarion is Ludwig’s story, however dark and full of loss, loneliness, deception and destruction. Wieringa’s writing, with its driving pace, is compelling and the book sparkles with a delight in storytelling, making Caesarion impossible to resist.