Zwart van het volk
A young Fleming studies agricultural engineering in Louvain, gains his doctorate in soil science and at the age of twenty-eight leaves for Nigeria to carry out research, leaving behind his mother, with whom he has lived in the countryside until then. Ten years later he receives news of his mother’s death. Her funeral has already taken place by the time his sister finally reaches him on the phone. Sand, clay, mud and slime: these days he knew every last detail about them. But he still understood far less about that noise and hubbub down below.’
The novel records the return journey of Wim, by now married and the father of two, to his home in Ibadan. In this way Leo Pleysier has created a perfect situation of extremes: a soil specialist flying through the clouds, separated from the earth, his specialist field, and travelling away from his homeland, despite everything the place of his roots. Never before in his work has Leo Pleysier strayed so far from the Kempen farmland where he was born. He previously wrote a trilogy about his place as a taciturn writer whose work both detaches him from and binds him to his surroundings, following this with loving portraits in three novels of his mother, a sister and an aunt respectively.
This book makes it dramatically clear what Pleysier’s main theme has been all along: the distance that grows up over the years between one’s origin and the present, which can be circumscribed but not bridged by language. The soil scientist who discovers in the hubbub of Nigeria that the local soil is unsuitable for fertilisation, returns to visit the grave in the quiet village where he is viewed as a stranger. His brother and sister-in-law have little to say for themselves either, feeling that he has stayed away too long.
Pleysier blends two worlds with his particularly impressive sober style. In Africa things will improve if ‘people return to their villages’, and work the land. ‘Some hope,’ thinks Wim before he lands in Lagos and the clamour and din wash over him. The noises in his head which he has been listening to for the preceding hours are wonderfully conveyed by Pleysier.