The Cockatoo’s Lie
If it seemed initially as if Marion Bloem had used up all her material in her autobiographical first novel Geen gewoon Indisch meisje (‘No Ordinary East Indian Girl’), it has since become clear that she has established an oeuvre which has gradually incorporated more and more subject matter.
The difficulties facing second generation Indonesians are at the core of Bloem’s work: children who were born and bred in the Netherlands, but who are sufficiently Indonesian in more respects than just their appearance to be barred from belonging to either ‘party’ as a matter of course. The country they feel most drawn to is Indonesia, but that is no longer the East Indies the older relatives tell their nostalgic tales about. In her novels and stories Bloem develops this theme from what appears to be a strictly private matter into a generation issue, and beyond that into the fate of the homeless generation, which is to look for a foothold and an ethics of its own in an uprooted and disintegrated Europe.
In the ambitious, fragmentary novel Vaders van betekenis (‘Fathers Of Significance’), Bloem did not just evoke the protagonist Babs, but through her the entire history of the Indonesian male. In De leugen van de kaketoe she supplies a counterpart to that history. The principal character of this novel is called Melanie Fleury, a name that doubtlessly refers to the writer’s surname, which means ‘flower’ in Dutch. Via Melanie the novel also evokes the lives of her mother, grandmother and aunts, thus encompassing several generations.
Melanie is a woman of forty who intends to write an autobiography; the project fails, and instead she decides to write a letter to her ninety-year-old grandmother Charlotte, who is growing demented. This brings her to set down the stories of lives that were always to be overshadowed by men, but that are now rescued from oblivion: ‘The discovery, as I am writing, of an existence on a higher plane than the act, than the word, and of touching the ineffable by the simple concatenation of searching sentences, is what makes me realize that I am alive.’ In that way the passion to which many of Melanie’s stories attests is connected with her authorship, and through hers with Bloem’s authorship. The ancient cockatoo Casesa, which was a gift to Melanie from her lover Neo and which outlasted the giver’s company, breaks its silence at last. But its rehearsed protestation of love does not tally with the lesson Melanie learned about life, love and writing. The cockatoo is lying. The truth is to be found in this novel.