Queen of subdued passion
Passion is the central theme in Rascha Peper’s work. Whether it is the love of German Romantic painting in Verfhuid (Dyed in the Skin, 2005) or the fascination for the Romanovs in Russisch blauw (Russian Blue, 1995), her protagonists are ready to put their life on the line for passion. The same goes for Vingers van marsepein (Marzipan Fingers), about the lifelike specimens by the eighteenth-century Frederik Ruysch, who specialised in preserving people and animals in alcohol.
The protagonists are Bregtje and Benjamin, both ten years old and separated from each other by three centuries, and yet neighbours, because they live on the same Amsterdam canal. Bregtje is an orphan who is placed with the Ruysch family and Benjamin becomes fascinated by the specimens during a vacation in St Petersburg, where the Ruysch collection – bought by Tsar Peter the Great – ended up in a museum. Both their fascinations stem from the loss of a brother and sister. For Bregtje the promise – false, as it turns out – of being able to meet her brother again is the reason for giving away Ruysch’s secrets. Three centuries later Ben commits a rash deed in the St Petersburg zoo, featuring a rhinoceros – similar to the one that made a deep impression on Bregtje.
Peper seamlessly weaves the two stories into an intriguing whole, cleverly evoking two radically different periods of time through colourful details of daily life, language, and social relations. Both periods come over authentically. Equally convincing is the way Peper voices the experience of two ten-year-old children. All this makes Vingers van marsepein arresting reading.