Vonne van der Meer
A moving novel about lost objects and people
At the end of the 1950s, the young Jutka Horvath finds a woman’s handbag and returns it to its rightful owner. As a reward, she receives a book about a boy who loses his plastic fish only to find it back years later. From then on, Jutka makes it her mission to find lost items and return them to their owners. She becomes the ‘findling’.
Combing the streets in search of lost objects gives Jutka a sense of freedom – not unimportant for a girl whose parents were victims of the Communist regime in Hungary. She keeps an accurate account of all her findings and grows up to become an accountant by profession.
Jutka left Hungary as a child with her mother, who used the Russian invasion as an excuse to immigrate to the Netherlands. She had hoped the move would drag her husband away from his mistress, but it didn’t, and Jutka grows up without a father.
Jutka grows up in Amsterdam with her mother, who barely scrapes by as a singer in a nightclub. Because of the hump on her back, developed over years of constantly looking at the ground, and her aversion to unfaithful men, instilled in her by her mother, Jutka struggles to develop a healthy love life as an adult. When she discovers all the letters from her father that her mother had kept hidden from her, she leaves for Paris. There, father and daughter are reunited, but the many years and miles between them lead to misunderstandings and mutual feelings of rejection.
Through beautiful anecdotes about objects lost and found, Vonne van der Meer tells the story of a lonely soul.
Jutka’s last discovery is a baby boy in a dumpster. To her great sorrow, she is not allowed to keep him, and he’s placed in a foster family. Years later, when she develops a bond with another adopted young man, her life becomes less lonely. She also patches things up with her father.
As in her previous novels, such as the bestseller Island Guests or The Woman with the Key, Vonne van der Meer organically interweaves stories of very different people, all of which resonate with the same themes: homesickness, loss, attachment and destiny. In ways that are sometimes funny, sometimes melancholic, Van der Meer describes how her characters regain what they have lost or find something else to take its place. Like Jutka, who believes there’s wonder lying around every corner, Van der Meer reminds us that happiness belongs to those who are willing to seize it.