Monday 7 December 2020

Book Review: In Search of a Name by Marjolijn van Heemstra

In Search of a Name
Marjolijn van Heemstra
Translated by Jonathan Reeder

Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Imprint: Atria Books
Publication date: 24th November 2020 (first Published 4th may 2017)
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 208
Format read: eBook
Source: Courtesy of the publisher via Netgalley
About the book 
Marjolijn van Heemstra has heard about her great-uncle’s heroism for as long as she can remember. As a resistance fighter, he was the mastermind of a bombing operation that killed a Dutch man who collaborated with the Nazis, and later became a hero to everyone in the family.

So, when Marjolijn’s grandmother bestows her with her great-uncle’s signet ring requesting that she name her future son after him, Marjolijn can’t say no. Now pregnant with her firstborn, she embarks on a quest to uncover the true story behind the myth of her late relative. Chasing leads from friends and family, and doing her own local research, Marolijn realizes that the audacious story she always heard is not as clear-cut as it was made out to be. As her belly grows, her doubts grow, too—was her uncle a hero or a criminal?
My review

I'm not sure how much of this story is true and how much is fiction. It definitely reads like a true story and I even found myself googling the Mentos ad when the author says her husband was in the ad. The author calls it a story of a story.
In Search of a Name is such a compelling read I found myself totally invested in Marjolijn's search to uncover the true story of her great-uncle.
At the age of Eighteen Marjolijn had promised her grandmother that she would name her first son after a late relative, the hero of their family. Years later, pregnant with her first child, she starts to investigate this relative. There is a lot of conflicting information from different relatives and friends. Like all family stories, Uncle Frans' (nicknamed Bommenneef) story has changed as it was handed down through the generations and was also different according to what side of the family Marjolijn was talking to. She searches for the true story because this is what she wants her child to know.

Each chapter is headed by the number of weeks left in her pregnancy as the author counts down from 27 weeks to the day her baby is born.
Marjolijn becomes obsessed with finding out the full details behind the bombing he was involved in. She goes through archives of newspapers, court hearings, birth records and witness statements
Themes of bringing unindicted war criminals to justice, vigilantes continuing the cause after the war is over and the idea of a person living up to a name make this a thought provoking read.

In Search of a Name is a fascinating story. The writing is engaging, the translation is impeccable, and I loved the way the author slowly teased out the mystery of her uncle's actions sifting through fact and fiction, leaving me on edge right up until the end.
5/5 ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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