Rediscovered classic: a timeless novel about the tribulations of a remarkable refugee family
Aart and Lies, a young Jewish couple, flee the Netherlands on the eve of the Second World War and settle near the Moroccan city of Tangier. With their young son and the six refugee children they have taken under their wing on their journey south, they set about making a new home for themselves, living in a caravan and trying to farm an abandoned field. The subtle and unsentimental narrative recounts the growing pains of the children, as they struggle to hold their own in the face of incredible challenges.
This unlikely family of refugees consists of Rainer, an eighteen-year-old German boy, two Polish sisters Maria and Luba, fourteen and seven, and Pierre from France and Berthe from Belgium, both only five. All the orphaned children are Jewish, except for sixteen-year-old Hans who had to flee Germany because of his father’s involvement in the Resistance.
Aart’s and Lies’ ideals prove no match for the troubles they face: Lies falls pregnant, Pierre’s leg has to be amputated, the children are infested with lice and nothing grows on their field. The local consul regularly denies the surrogate family the financial support to which they are entitled.
Slowly they drift apart: Luba becomes the housekeeper - and perhaps more - to a Dutch expat, while Maria is adopted by the consul’s family, largely against her will. Aart is wrongfully arrested and, once released from prison, finds himself in an unspoken conflict with Hans over who is head of the family. Amid these domestic dramas, the family comes to be overshadowed by an even greater threat.
Dola de Jong fled to Tangier in 1940 to escape the rising tide of anti-semitism in her Dutch homeland. Her family stayed behind and The Field is dedicated to her parents and her brother who died in the Holocaust. She paints a convincing picture of Tangier, then a melting pot of cultures teeming with spies, crooks and indifferent officials, where refugees fall prey to petty power games and opportunistic adventurers. The novel is a bittersweet, all too relevant story of refugees in search of a better future.