Hertog van Egypte
Margriet Moor’s has become a literary presence since the national and international success of Eerst grijs dan wit dan blauw. Moreover, the subject of Hertog van Egypte is one whose importance transcends national boundaries. It tells the story of the gypsies, the eternally wandering people, living in caravans ‘through the centre of which run the coordinates of the whole of Europe’.
The moustachioed horse dealer Joseph Plato is one of them, born in the Second World War and married to the red-haired Lucie, a farmer’s daughter from Twente. Every spring Joseph climbs into his flashy car and sets off by himself to visit his relatives scattered across Europe, before returning to his wife and his horse-breeding.
Once again Margriet de Moor has set herself the task of capturing an apparently impossible theme in literature. Previously she had looked inside the head of an autistic boy (Eerst grijs dan wit dan blauw) and evoked the song of an Italian castrato singer from the bel canto period (De virtuoos, published in English as The Virtuoso). Now she records the history of an oral, nomadic culture which itself never keeps a permanent record. All these projects are investigations of the irrational and sometimes unknowable aspects of other people and ourselves. The marriage of Joseph and Lucie has blank spots and mysteries, which are even more striking in the book since De Moor has opted for an anonymous, omniscient guardian angel (or a number of them) as her narrative voice.
In shimmeringly melodic prose De Moor sketches the story of Plato and his forefathers, and makes the familiar and depressing history of centuries of rejection and condemnation tangible with her compelling technique. Adultery and illness throw a spanner in the works of the marriage of the gypsy and the farmer’s daughter. ‘Tausend Dinge möcht’ ich dir noch sagen’, sings Zarah Leander on the car radio, as Lucie takes her husband to hospital, where he will be admitted for an operation. What cannot be said, must be sung. Or written.