I Was America
An unlikely friendship
The German prisoners of war interned in American prison camps during World War II are a forgotten page of history. There was not enough space for them in Europe, but the plains of Texas were wide and empty. Ultimately, over 425,000 Germans and Italians, most of them from the front in North Africa, were to spend the remainder of the war in military barracks on the other side of the ocean.
Gustaaf Peek is a young writer who has already demonstrated his talent for the literary adaptation of historical events that appeal to the imagination: he wrote a novel about the affair of the 58 Chinese nationals who suffocated in a shipping container on the North Sea in 2000. By investigating questions that a newspaper report can never answer and presenting details that provoke the imagination, he creates a story that reflects the zeitgeist and possesses a sense of urgency.
The main character in his latest novel, Ik was Amerika, is Dirk Winter: one of the Dutch men who fought on the side of the Germans. He was captured by the Allies in Africa and taken to America, along with thousands of others. The men did not have a hard time of it: they were well fed and learned English, but they also had to endure forced labour in the cotton fields, along with the black men (‘You just like us now’), where Dirk made friends with Harris, a black tractor driver, and his mysterious half-sister.
The story is told in chapters that alternate between the past and the present: in the late 1970s, Dirk returns to America, first to New York and then down the endless highways, heading for Texas. Times have changed, but his old friend Harris is there waiting for him. They’ve kept in touch for all those years by sending each other Christmas cards, but a lot has happened since Dirk left, thirty years before, and he turns out to be seriously ill. So unfolds the drama of an unlikely friendship between two very different men. Ik was Amerika is a carefully constructed, cinematic story that leaves a great deal to the imagination.