Exciting search for a lost past
Longing, Alfred van Cleef’s first novel, tells the story of investigative journalist Albert Ossedrijver and his exciting search into the past of his family, who were killed in World War II. His quest leads him to another family, his girlfriend Esther’s family, members of whom had been in the Dutch pro-Nazi NSB party. Without either one of them knowing it, it turns out that both families were marked by the past: Albert’s grandfather was betrayed to the Nazis; Esther’s grandfather was a traitor.
Van Cleef is not concerned with drawing a distinction between good and evil, the categories people into people generally were placed during the War, but rather with exploring the grey area in-between. He does this by stressing the human side in everyone: the need for love, for a family life, children and a normal, everyday life in a community, in this case the Rivierenbuurt in Amsterdam, a neighbourhood where many Jewish people lived before the war.
Albert and Esther live in an Amsterdam commune, a form of housing from the seventies and eighties that is described with a great deal of irony and humour. They want to have a baby, and Albert already has a name picked out for his son: Moses Baruch, a name that honours both his Jewish ancestry and his grandfather. Albert turns out to be infertile, and to his great sorrow this makes him the last surviving member of his family. He obsessively goes off in search of his family history so that he can tell it to the son he will never have.
Albert becomes intrigued by his grandmother’s missing photo album, which might be able to shed some light on his hidden past. Armed with his curiosity and the methods of an investigative journalist, he begins his search. He learns things he never could have imagined, things that prove to have a direct influence on his present love life, things that bring the past chillingly close…