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Until the fool is out. Wonderful reconstruction of his family history by Bart Meuleman

The first time Belgian writer Bart Meuleman's father starts talking about his origins, during a car ride, it hardly leads to an in-depth conversation. But it does lead to a tilt. 'My father became someone else,' Meuleman writes. 'Issues preceded everything he ever did, or omitted to do, or said, or concealed as a father. They had moulded him into the somewhat comical, good-natured figure I had come to see in him after all these years. It was only part of the reality.'

Reconstruction

How my father was conceived is Meuleman's reconstruction of a crucial period in his father's life and his grandmother, whom he knows only as an angry, unfriendly woman who wants nothing to do with her offspring. This grandmother, Anna, was sent to Bruges against her will as a young woman to work in the household of the middle-class Cocquyt family. She had to be protected from her foolish infatuation with Frans, her father believed, just as long "until the madness was out".

But when adult son Emile Cocquyt and his wife Paula lose their newborn daughter, Emile seeks solace with maid, and Anna, needless to say, dares not fend off her boss. The resulting child and disgrace are anxiously kept hidden. Little Jos is placed with a vicious angel maker, who looks after him until Anna returns home with son and marries Frans after all.

Writer Bart Meuleman ©Koos Breukel

Three storylines

Meuleman unfolds and interweaves the history of three generations in different storylines. He tells of his grandmother as a young woman, of his father returning to Bruges as a young man, and of himself: a son who suddenly comes to see his father in a different light.

In warm-blooded prose, which fortunately was not Dutchised, Meuleman paints a moving portrait of a family with an unhappy history, such as there were, of course, others but which was never allowed to be spoken about.

As such, his novel is above all a portrait of a bygone era. A time that is not even that far behind us, but has - thankfully - changed dramatically.

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Bart Meuleman, How my father was conceived, Querido, € 18.99 Buy at bol.com 

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A Quattro Mani

Photographer Marc Brester and journalist Vivian de Gier can read and write with each other - literally. As partners in crime, they travel the world for various media, for reviews of the finest literature and personal interviews with the writers who matter. Ahead of the troops and beyond the delusion of the day.View Author posts

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