A deeply moving portrayal of a lost childhood
In 1972 Anton Milot, a man of thirty-four, meets his younger self on the street. He travels to Berlin with the boy he once was, who tells him about his youth. ‘I know that deep in his heart he doesn’t believe one iota of my explanation that we’re the same person. I have proof; he has yet to experience it all. His stories are coloured by his enthusiasm and from his disbelief flows a profusion of detail.’
The adult Milot is grieving for his wife Robin who, pregnant with their first child, was killed in an accident. He is also plagued by epileptic seizures, which distort his view of the world. ‘Then time and place fall apart.’ It is typical of Lieske that in his imagination he shuffles disorienting atmospheres and shifting perspectives, until everything shifts.
The boy possesses an accurate and vivid memory, unlike his adult counterpart. In sparkling scenes we meet the German girl Rosemarie, a refugee from Berlin, who stayed in the Milots’ house in The Hague immediately after the Second World War and with whom Anton had his first erotic experiences. In a boat they hire one summer’s day, she takes off her clothes saying: ‘Row and look, Anton. Just look, that’s all.’
Across Anton’s childhood falls the shadow of a heroic father. ‘A hero is a colourful character, wears a tie, has false teeth and a strong smell.’ He was truly a hero of the Dutch resistance, but also a domineering, witless oaf whose fits of anger held the family in the grip of fear.
Anton’s love for Rosemarie comes to nothing and in a shocking scene the father is toppled from his pedestal with a thundering crash. With its extraordinary structure and poetic style – each sentence has an astonishing and mysterious power – the novel is a deeply moving portrayal of a lost childhood.