Book Review

My Father's War by Adriaan Van Dis

My Father's War by Adriaan Van Dis

I suppose this is for lovers of memoirs/roman a clef like Wild Swans. They are not normally my thing and My Father's War, whilst nicely written (or rather, as far as the reader of English is concerned beautifully translated), has not changed my thinking. This is the unnamed narrator's story of the difficult life of his mixed-race Dutch/Indonesian family. The structure is rather convoluted with the book rangeing back and forth in time and viewpoint and based over three continents: the Dutch East Indies where the early childhood of Saskia, Ada and Jana in the shadow of WWII; Holland where they move to after the war; and Canada where Jana migrates to as an adult.

The war of the title is, in truth, war's aftermath: the strife caused in a family ruled, literally, by the iron rod of Justin, the narrator's (but not the girls') father. Life growing up in Holland with a violent father is hard but glimpses of camps in the Dutch East Indies, and snapshots of conflict, explain, if not excuse, Justin's bitter cruelties toward his family and his son in particular. The narrator is asking a lot for the reader to be as fascinated by his personal history as he is and I was never, to be honest, very moved by his plight as a child or his attempt as an adult to understand his father and his role within his disfunctional family. As the book closes we feel we should have learned a number of important life lessons but I'm not sure I did. Oprah would love this but I remained unconvinced. I found this a slog to read and wouldn't recommend it.


-- Reviewed by Mark Thwaite on 12/08/2004

Further Information
ISBN-10: 0434010472
ISBN-13: 9780434010479
Publisher: William Heinemann
Publication Date: 02/02/2004
Binding: Hardcover
Number of pages: 308

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