Wat je van bloed weet
Author overcomes the trauma of growing up in a violent, abusive family
On the outside everything seems perfect – a family with three children, living in a fancy house with a large garden; the children all play hockey. But behind closed doors it’s a different story. Philip Huff has written a vivid, powerful novel about a childhood in which physical violence is a daily occurrence, and the subsequent struggle to overcome this trauma.
‘All happy families are alike, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.’ These famous words by Tolstoy also apply to this novel by Philip Huff, in which he describes how appearances can be deceptive. As the oldest son in a family in which the parents don’t just hit each other but also their children, the nameless narrator does his best to survive while at the same time trying to protect his sister and little brother.
The story takes us from their early childhood into adult life, when they have become estranged from their parents and are trying to put the pieces of a broken childhood back together. This cinematic approach, where we see a boy slowly becoming a man, is poignant and deeply moving. The narrator struggles with anger, numbness and grief and has to come to terms with the role he played as a son and as a brother – as well as making sure he doesn’t pass down the trauma to his children.
Each chapter opens with a brief anecdote from a kind of parallel world where parents adore each other and children grow up in a loving family. They are fantasies of how his childhood might have gone. It makes the scenes that follow all the more devastating – that’s not what his childhood was like; that’s not how his parents behaved.
At the same time, the novel is also a story about love – between him and Cato, his first girlfriend who he meets in his hockey club, and between him and his younger brother: the two have a deep connection, but his brother increasingly gets lost in drugs and psychosis. How do you deal with trauma? Can you ever liberate yourself from the shackles of family bonds? With unparalleled clarity, this impressive, haunting novel provides an answer to those questions.