The Gas and Electricity Man
A touching and intimate family saga
Nicolette Smabers once said in an interview, that ‘story telling is an act of love’. This statement characterizes the way she writes. Withholding important information from children, thus denying them the right to the truth, and resulting in a lopsided view of reality, plays a role in all of Smabers’ work.
Sixteen year-old Eva Porceleyn learns that her parents are planning to emigrate from The Hague in the Netherlands to California. This, to them, is the fulfilment of a long-cherished dream, and they hope that their daughter will be as excited as they are. Instead she bursts into tears. Emigrate to America? ‘You choose, Eva,’ says her father after hours of pleading, ‘between coming to the land of oranges and orchards, and growing sour in this damp and chilly country.’ Eva wants to stay on in the Netherlands, and she wants to become a teacher. Besides, she is in love. But if she stays, her parents and brothers will be gone, and she’ll have to live with her Uncle Leo and Auntie Amanda. Faced with this choice, Eva tries to understand the fraught relationship between her father and her uncle. She delves into her childhood, when her father told her stories every night, fairy tales, Bible stories and memories of the former Dutch East Indies, where the family lived before Eva was born, interwoven with stories about the fortunes of the Porceleyn family.
However, all the stories, fast paced and told with great delight, conceal important details. Eva discovers that some wounds are hard to heal, and that the past ‘is under a spell of silence’. Her search takes her to the 1920s, to a school playground in a town in the middle of Java, where her father and his brothers, children at the time, engaged in a fight which also raged outside: the one between black and white Dutchmen. De man van gas en licht (The Gas and Electricity Man) is a touching and intimate family saga showing the power of story-telling cutting across oceans and generations.