I began to read The Discomfort of Evening by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld, a debut novel that made its author gain the title of “The Youngest Author Winning The 2020 International Booker Prize”.
As I read it from its English translation I wondered about how it was written in writer’s own language: Dutch. But then as I read, I forgot all about the language and pictured a twelve years old girl in agony and a farmhouse and two elder brothers and a sister and cows and a Mom and a Dad and a place cold like shit where people skate on a frozen lake. And sometimes people die like Jas’s big brother Matthies.
The protagonist of the book, Jas, is a brilliant girl, but she is misguided. And she grows up. But into the darkness. As I read, I asked to myself was this a nineteenth century story? In the middle of Europe I know, or I saw when I was travelling on a train from Brussels to Amsterdam there was a sunny rich and prosperous country. But I think every place has a dark side like the moon. So, I read about the video games the children played and as Nokia cell phones are mentioned in the book, I understood. No, it wasn’t an old story. It was just happening in the beginning of the 21st century which we are totally proud of it being the era of knowledge and enlightenment. I think it doesn’t go like that in every place. I mean the knowledge and the enlightenment. When people don’t know (something-anything), they cannot be enlightened.
I say that for my country, Turkey, “Too much religion is harmful for everyone.” Now as I read the story of Rijneveld’s, I see that “religion” word covers for every religion and belief on earth.
When Mothers and Dads are guideless, or their only guideline is a dark path called “rules of the religion” which isn’t illuminated with the words of love, wisdom and patience, the only thing they can give to their children is fear because of ignorance.
When Jas’s brother Matthies dies, actually drowns in the icy water of the frozen lake, her family collapse. Instead of giving away their excessive love (which should have remained ungiven-unsaid-untold because they lost one of their children) to each other and embrace one another, they give their hate away. The hate that forbids you to pronounce the name of the dead ever. The hate that forbids you to murmur you miss your dead brother. This hatred combines with the unknown feelings that no one has ever faced because no one in another family died this way, the only way to live with it is to hurt yourself and to hurt other creatures. Jas couldn’t hurt other creatures like her other brother Obbe, so she hurts herself. What Jas has been living was an implosion that neither her mom nor her Dad was aware of.
She, only twelve, knows that it’s no good she and her brother and her sister are being neglected all the time by Mom and Dad. But she has got no way to speak this out. Anyway, she’s not allowed to say these kind of things out loud.
We can say she is abused by his father but not in the sort of abusing we know. He places soap into her bum which is a procedure that has to be done by a doctor by a nurse or by her Mom for God’s sake. But the only body her father knows well or gives a shit about is a cow’s body. So bad he never gives up treating his children like cows. Even when they are sick or when they are healthy. It seems like he’s sorrier when the cows die than he’s sorry when his elder son Matthies is dead by suffocating and freezing. It’s that conflict Jas can never handle. And can’t live with it too.
When adults in a family deal with the simple-everyday-issues in the name of God, simple-everyday-issues aren’t simple anymore. They become dreadful. Children at little ages cannot separate respect from fear than respect from love. Like a bride who is insulted and abused and attacked and hit by her groom in the first day of their marriage, thinks that she loves her husband by the time, but it’s not love. It’s fear. It then leads to a strong hate. Children feel the same way too. When the parents impose their children that they must love what they must obey without any questioning till the end of their lives, it’s fear, not love.
I used to think that there had to be a way to convince a Mom and a Dad to say YES to their children. Parenthood shouldn’t always have to come as a package with lots of NO’s.
When I was a teenager sometimes I felt the same way too. I had to ask for permission for something, -anything- that I had knew before asking, I would get an answer of NO. But I tried. I tried hard. I fought. I fought with my Mom. I fought with my Dad. I fought with myself.
I stood up then. I resisted. I was full of life and joy and I won.
When Jas’s implosion takes start it’s inevitable. Jas can’t stand up. Jas can’t resist. Jas isn’t full of life and joy because of the religious oppression she faces every day.
About the author:
Marieke Lucas Rijneveld was born on 20 April 1991 in Netherlands. She grew up in a family that is connected to Dutch Reformed Church. She was born as a “she” but she considers herself neither a girl nor a boy and she uses they/their personal pronouns for herself. She adopted a second first name of “Lucas” for herself at the age of nineteen.
She has lost her brother when she was three. It must have been an enormous trauma.
When she was in primary school, she read and then copied J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s stone to their computer so as to read it again and again after the book is returned to the library. She did this because according to the Reformed Church magic was a taboo. She had found an interesting way to sort out things that are forbidden. Clever.
She is also a poet and has two poetry books.
Marieke released her second novel Mijn Lieve Gunsteling – My Dear Favorite in 2020 which hasn’t been translated to English yet. But I’m looking forward to it.