Reality and fiction are always closely bound up together in the work of A.F.Th. van der Heijden. Historical events – such as the coronation of Queen Beatrix in 1980, which was marked by serious disorder on the streets, and the social unrest of the seventies and eighties – form the backdrop to the dramatic lives of his characters, who are often based on real people.
In Ash Destination, Van der Heijden sticks closely to reality, ‘perhaps out of misplaced deference’, as he writes. In diary fragments and in disparate notes he portrays his alcoholic father, who ‘drowned in his own fluid’ at the age of sixty-seven.
In earlier books Van der Heijden had already described his childhood in a down-at-heel village and his difficult relationship with his father. In the first part of his novel cycle The Toothless Time, for example, fiction and reality coalesce, the father evoking nothing but anger and embarrassment in the central character, not least because of the alcoholism that is his legacy.
Here, as part of his attempt to understand his father, Van der Heijden goes in search of exceptional, intimate memories. His requiem is a melancholy and tender account of coming to terms with a difficult father-son relationship.