The Barber’s Boy
A moving coming-of-age novel
In The Barber’s Boy, Maria Stahlie opens up the difficult and magical world of 16-year-old Aldo Rossi, the son of Dutch and Italian parents. His grandfather has great hopes for the boy: “You could be the one to correct the way my sons and I always viewed life – as a simple fact, without giving it a moment’s thought… and not as the amazing miracle that it is, a dream that makes wild and strange demands of you…”
When Aldo languishes with a broken heart, his grandfather drags him to the barber’s chair. As he gives Aldo his first proper shave, he teaches him a lesson that stays with him forever: you must be a man, not a mouse. And: if you set high standards for yourself, there’s a chance that one day there will come a moment when you too are expected to perform an act of courage – not just any old feat, but something that exceeds your imagination. Aldo’s grandfather lends weight to his story with tales of his own father, Bruno, Aldo’s great-grandfather, who once performed a grand feat that really stirred the imagination. From then on, Aldo is obsessed with the desire to match his great-grandfather’s act. He assumes a worldly-wise persona: deep inside his own mind, he is the wildly gesticulating, cosmopolitan Italian. His greatest wish is to remain calm and unflustered as he goes through life. In reality, however, Aldo is anything but calm.
Stahlie perfectly captures the violence of Aldo’s emotions, the battle between his heart and his head, his need to act and his hopeless paralysis. When his school sends him on a work placement at a nursing home, he meets Laszlo Metzlar, a Hungarian man who is paralysed following a failed suicide attempt. His catatonic state is an invitation for everyone to tell their stories to him, and Aldo too senses infinite wisdom in that simmering gaze. When he follows his grandfather’s example and gives Laszlo a thorough shave, he realises that perhaps the moment has now come for him to perform his own inspiring act.
Scheerjongen is an original and moving coming-of-age novel. The development that Stahlie makes Aldo go through occurs at the point where magic meets disillusionment. Stahlie has the ability to place herself entirely in the emotional world of an adolescent, without ever resorting to cloying sentiment or empty psychological realism. The result is both controlled and captivating, which can be said of very few novels.