First translation into English of a lyrical, mysterious coming-of-age story: the initial volume (originally published in 1936) of a celebrated Flemish writer's autobiographical trilogy. (The succeeding volumes are scheduled to come out over the next few seasons.) Gilliams (1900-82), who was also a highly acclaimed poet, re-creates with an artful, sensuous immediacy the experiences and emotions of his sentient narrator-protagonist, 12-year-old Elias--an only child whose parents take him to live on a family estate that also houses a bewildering array of variously troubled relatives. The boy is enlisted in family theatricals memorializing beloved other sons and daughters--and finds that though he may tag along with and learn from good-natured Uncle Augustin, he might better keep a respectful distance from humorless, high-strung Aunt Zenobia and embittered martinet Aunt Theodora. Meanwhile, he's fascinated by mercurial Aunt Henrietta, whose unstable temperament seems to forecast a madness Elias associates with adulthood. He finds only partial escape from such madness in highly charged relationships with adventurous neighborhood girl Hermione and older cousin Aloysius, a moody free spirit whose unhappy collision with family discipline gives Elias another foretaste of his own future. Little else happens. A storm uproots a tree. A dog sickens and must be put out of its misery. Elias's dreamy solipsism is frequently interrupted by rudely physical real sensations (a foot stepping on his fingers, a form entering his bedroom silently to pile extra blankets around his feet). His confident assertion that ""all things obey my imagination"" is thus challenged by the repeated intrusions of an exterior other world. The boy's unpredictable vacillations in and out of the life around him give an oddly surrealistic flow and feel to the fragmentary portrayal of his extended family--a portrayal that we receive through the prism of his vision. Some will find little more here than an overextended, somewhat enervated prose poem. Others will eagerly await more revelations of Elias's intriguingly divided nature.