Coming-of-age novel about being uprooted and finding freedom
Could there be a more quintessentially Dutch theme for a novel than severing ties with the Reformed Church? You could argue that ‘our’ relationship with the former Dutch colonies comes in a close second to this defining topic.
In his fifth novel, Pastoral, Stephan Enter sets about combining two Dutch worlds. He even has them exist quite literally side by side, in a sleepy country village in the mid-1980s, where the Reformed neighbourhood is right next door to the local Moluccan community (immigrants from the Maluku Islands in the Indonesian archipelago). But the two areas might as well be oceans apart – the Reformed villagers shun the newcomers, accusing them of all sorts of terrible misdeeds.
The history of the Moluccan population in the Netherlands – most of whom come from the island of Ambon – is as complicated as it is tragic. Initially, many of them fought on the side of the Dutch in the Indonesian War of Independence in 1948. After the proclamation of the Republic of Indonesia, it was difficult for them to remain in their home country. Some 3,500 Moluccans were shipped to the Netherlands, where they were housed in camps. The plan was that they would return to the Moluccas later on, which is why they were isolated from Dutch society and not given the opportunity to integrate. However, they ended up never going back, and rising tensions led to several terrorist attacks by young Moluccans in the 1970s.
High-school student Oscar de Vree is asked to deliver homework to a Moluccan classmate who is temporarily absent from school, and falls in love with the boy’s sister. It’s the start of a torrid, confusing summer and a series of encounters he’ll look back on as ‘the most important events of his adolescence.’ Meanwhile, Oscar’s older sister Louise is also spending the summer in the village. She’s angry with her mother, who is becoming more religious with every Sunday that passes, and angry with the Reformed community that has stolen her childhood. This results in diverting, searing monologues and heated discussions.
What may be even more exciting than Oscar and Louise’s carefully constructed storylines is Enter’s impressively rich style. Just as in his previous work, his prose is consistently outstanding. Almost everything he describes is brought to life in apt, vivid detail.