Moving confrontation with the East Indies of the old days
In the work of the writer Springer it is possible to trace the diplomat Schneider’s postings. New Guinea, New York, Bangladesh and Tehran are discussed in stories and novels. Perhaps it is therefore not so remarkable that, now that Schneider has left the diplomatic service and has the peace and quiet to appraise his life, the writer Springer should have a main character return to the (Dutch) East Indies of his youth.
Springer does that in his inimitable way, the book is full of irony about the bigheaded world of diplomats, politicians and trade commissions, and its very serious plot is presented almost in passing – which doubles its impact. This is typical of Springer’s sensitivity and particular power, attributes which are once again very present in this new novel and which prevent the story from drowning in the nostalgia that can so easily adhere to literature which deals with the colonial past.
The main character, the politician Chris Regensberg, appears to be a ‘cool realist’, but when he himself is coolly forced to resign his seat because of pressure from pushy younger party members his personality is severely bruised. While the lobbying for a consolation prize of a mayorship is being carried out, he and his wife accompany a trade mission to Indonesia. Regensberg has not been there since his youth and his time in the Japanese internment camps.
In an interview he gives to an Indonesian journalist his personal memories of the camp reemerge. But looking around he still recognizes little – ‘not a bloody thing’. That gives Springer the opportunity to quickly use his great knowledge of the business world to sardonically sketch the jovial business group.
The unexpected meeting in a Bandung taxi with his former friend Otje (who still speaks the old fashioned Dutch that was spoken in what was then Bandoeng) is for ‘old fellow’ Chris an uncommonly emotional event. Otto Blanchet, his full name, was badly let down by Chris after the war and has stayed poor his whole life. The book’s conclusion suggests that the confrontation has altered Regensberg for good. The way the moving story from the past builds up in a cloud of kretek smoke and finally breaks through the armour Chris has made for his adult self is the final proof that Springer has written a small masterpiece.