The ordeal of Hungarian Jewry during WWII, survivor guilt, and the unbridgeable distances between people yearning to connect—these are the major motifs sounded in this brisk, elegiac second US appearance by the Dutch author of The Twins (2000).
A virtuosic juxtaposition of different time periods and clashing viewpoints, the tale begins with its female narrator’s declaration that, having just buried her father, “I am lying in bed with his son.” She is Kata Roszsavölgyi, the daughter of a celebrated Hungarian composer who had survived the war in Holland, hidden in the home of Ida Flinck, the Dutchwoman who became both his lover and the mistress of a Nazi officer. De Loo’s flexible narrative reaches backward not only to Kata’s girlhood in Budapest, but also to her forebears’ experiences, as recounted by her uncle Miksa: chiefly, (his brother) her father’s “escape” from Hungary to study music, and thus evade the fate their parents and sister met; more generally, the story of a proud culture’s swift annihilation by Hitler’s armies. And, as in The Twins, de Loo offers a stunning coincidence, as Kata falls in love with Stefan, a suave womanizing student—until she meets his mother: Ida Flinck. Is Stefan the son of the German officer? Or, as Kata knows in her bones, of her reclusive, emotionless (and presumably guilt-ridden) father? Ironies multiply and unanswerable questions press down with the weight of years and generations, as these characters’ several stories intersect and collide, and the tale moves swiftly toward its wrenching climax, with Kata and Stefan burying “their” father, their love, and perhaps all hope of ever knowing what they are to each other—and even who they are.
A consummate dramatization of the impenetrable mysteriousness of other people’s lives: convincing proof that de Loo is one of Europe’s most accomplished novelists.