My Father’s Century
A lovingly written family history, in which the past hundred years are brought palpably close
Three Mak generations span the twentieth century. They are the subject of a family chronicle by Geert Mak, and at the same time a history of the past hundred years. The generation of his grandfather, a sailmaker, entered the twentieth century with what was still an unshaken faith in the traditional order; his own generation emerged from it in the belief that all established values and truths rest on shaky foundations. The generation of his father, a Calvinist clergyman, marked the pivot on which our century tipped over. In this lovingly written family history, the past hundred years are brought palpably close.
Admittedly, the First World War passed the Netherlands by, but Mak’s grandfather was only too well aware of it. His father was personally involved in the decolonization of Indonesia, where he served as a clergyman. And Geert Mak himself experienced the freedom and follies of the 1960s, which he describes with gentle criticism and self-mockery.
Precisely because this book deals with history at such close quarters, it also imposes a sense of alienation. Much of what happened not so long ago has already become forgotten. This is particularly true of the Calvinist world of Mak’s father. In many ways, its practices, convictions and theological controversies formed Dutch society. Today they seem as strange even to Dutch people as the doings of exotic cultures. And yet, Mak conveys to the modern reader what these people were aiming at with their passionate convictions, much as he also brings home to us many social and political ideas we have long ceased to share.
De eeuw van mijn vader is more than a refreshing encounter with the hundred years we have left behind us. It conjures up a historical experience that keeps the reader under its spell from the first to the last page.