The elegance, originality, and humor of Sante's new book provide a deeply satisfying reading experience. When he was a young child, Sante (Low Life: Lures and Snares of Old New York, 1991, etc.) and his Belgian parents immigrated to the US, settling in New Jersey. Not quite American and not quite Belgian, Sante was more of ``an international co-production.'' Belgian culture, while at the center of his family life, was inherited in fragments. The Factory of Facts is Sante's strikingly original attempt to make sense of these fragments--of himself, his family, and his native country. The 15 chapters don't follow a linear progression, but rather bear Sante's characteristic stamp of a roving and all-embracing curiosity. Fortunately, he has the stylistic genius and temperament to make a cohesive whole of his wide-ranging discourses on everything from Belgian labor history to America in the 1960s. This volume is the very embodiment of Sante's definition of the past as ``a notional construct, a hypothesis, a poem.'' Sante is less interested in his life in the US than in his half-remembered early childhood in Belgium. The bulk of his memoir is a running commentary on the Sante family, his native city of Verviers and its collapsed textile industry, and, above all, the particularities of Belgian culture. Verviers looms large in his reconstruction and plays the role of a character in his past; when Sante writes that he can feel the city in his bones, the reader shares his sensation. Likewise, the stubborn independence, the contradictions (linguistic and other), and the accidental nature and ambiguity of Belgium itself, all drawn with immense acumen and humor, are like Sante himself. Still, he retains an ironic distance from the past that enables him to maintain a self-conscious affection for less dispiriting times than the present. Beyond its Belgian grayness and fascinating specificity, Sante's shrewd and lyrical treatise on the past speaks to us all.

Pub Date: Feb. 11th, 1998
ISBN: 0-679-42410-5
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Pantheon
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 1997


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