Three Sisters in London
During World War I, Eric de Kuyper’s grandfather’s position with the railways took him and his family to London. The De Kuypers spent the war years in the magnificent Cannon Street Hotel, a palace which, with its imperturbable rhythm and impeccable order, seemed immune to the inferno raging in the world outside. The family’s three daughters, who were then in their adolescence, never returned to London. They gave this gleaming period of their lives a special place in the stories they often told on family occasions. De Kuyper, who was born during World War II, has collected these stories in a captivating book.
The author himself calls it ‘a girls’ book’ and has provided it with nostalgic illustrations. In doing so, De Kuyper has found an unconventional form for this carefree story with its short sentences, questions and cooing girlish exclamations (‘London! They were in London! How foreign the streets looked!’). The Great War raging on the continent hardly touches these children, it remains a distant rumour, only coming closer in occasional collections for the boys at the front, or in a nighttime Zeppelin raid. The girls’ real life is a fairy tale, made up of visits to concerts, theatre and the cinema, secretly dancing in the hotel with a rich banker, learning how to descend the imposing hotel staircase, table manners, reading picture books and, of course, first love which, as is fitting for young girls, takes place in a swoon of rapture.
The description of the bombing raid during which the hotel guests are led down into the cellars and the ladies are indelicately obliged to pee behind a screen is imbued with a childish excitement which is worlds apart from the fear the adults in the same room must have been feeling. De Kuyper blows the dust off his mother’s memories and conjures her up in all her youthful vigour. The yellowed pages of the old books and magazines from which the writer has clipped his pictures gleam like gold.