Country of origin
Honest and uncompromising self-portrait
Eddy du Perron - usually shortened to E. du Perron - along with his friend Menno ter Braak, gave colour, taste and direction to the literary climate of the Netherlands of the thirties. In their essays, talks and polemics, and as editors of the famous magazine Forum, Ter Braak and Du Perron passionately defended ‘the ordinary guy’ in literature. They believed that it wasn’t the form or the style that was decisive for the quality of prose or poetry, but the ‘personality’ of the writer as it emerged in the work.
Country of origin (Het land van herkomst), Du Perron’s massive magnum opus, is the realization of this literary philosophy. In contemporary literary criticism the book is sometimes considered ‘formless’, even an ‘anti-novel’ because it has very little story line and seems to have been composed off the cuff. Yet it was precisely the unforced, highly personal character of the book that so deeply touched and influenced a whole generation of writers immediately before, during and after the Second World War (Du Perron, like Ter Braak, died during the first days of the war).
Country of origin has two intertwining plots. On the one hand there’s the deeply evocative story of the childhood of Arthur Ducroo, Du Perron’s alter ago, who grew up around 1900 in a powerfully rich milieu in the Dutch East Indies. Ducroo, cocksure and swaggering, explores that lost, colonial world, feeling his way through life and literature. Then there’s the story of the writer’s life between February 1933 and February 1934, written in diary entries, letters and discussions with other characters, Menno ter Braak and André Malraux among them. While the ‘East India’ passages, especially those from his earliest childhood, are marked by happiness, in the ‘contemporary’ passages, recorded in the Netherlands and in Paris, there is the constant palpable threat of the approaching war with Hitler.
This hybrid composition makes Country of origin a unique, multifaceted, almost ‘postmodern’ book. What Du Perron wrote is an astonishingly sharp, honest and uncompromising self-portrait. After rooting around in his own past he finally discovered his future calling: ‘To live according to one’s own nature and as if one still had all the room in the world, with all the curiosity and hope with which one is cursed, but also with a sufficient quantity of pessimism, to reconcile ourselves in a single minute with the end of everything that has made our lives possible, possible in the full sense of the world.’