A Fine Family Line

 “It’s not where you come from, it’s what you do with it.”


New York

My son,

    The first time you cried, in Paris in 2002, in the funky clinic where our gynecologist rode his Harley Davidson to work, I promised you that no ancestors of ours would ever clip your wings. Therefore, the need to pass on these stories to you arises from having been haunted by both their absence and their prominence in myself. Because stories remain, don’t they? However keen one is to forget; they wrap their phantom limbs all the way around the next of kin. That unprocessed pain moves onto the next generations undercover, an ethereal Damocles sword, fed by denial, secrecy, and trauma.

    The craving to overcome our family narrative for you was primal; twenty years on, it still is. I am your gateway, and I want to grant you the most precious gift of life: the right to be yourself exclusively despite, or possibly thanks to, the onslaught of existential heritage brought to us by the wanting souls and hungry spirits in our ancestry. To free us both from its karmic aftermath, from the oh-so stubborn specter of transgenerational trauma, I am taking you to the matrix, to the whirlwind of all-too human tales that make up our complex fabric.

    I was violently compelled by each of my parents to find the answers they never could give, to fix our legacy and the world. They had wanted to save the masses from the betrayals, manipulations and lies of those in power. From wars. Their yearnings, global and personal, consumed them. So, they locked me in with their failures and threw the keys into that well of jumbled and untold history. I stand on its edges as I speak.

    In the process of writing this book, the major events of the twentieth century as a backdrop, I spoke with every single relative I could. What I am telling you here is only partially true. It’s my truth. When History is passed on, it leaves its trails of emotional imprinting carved in hard facts, but it remains subjective which is why I chose to write you a novel. This is the story of an exotic breed:  Dutch and Cuban. Something improbable, you don’t want to come from old colonialism and odd civil wars like everyone else. Along this fictional journey, as I explored the past and walked in other people’s shoes, I found a compassion that secretiveness doesn’t allow. And I’ve also learned to look at History at head height. It’s made of hope and ideals, it’s made of being hit on your fingers with a ruler at school, of sweaty sex, of battlefields, of exiles and of the daily grind. Made of wanting your mother and father to love you properly. Of wanting to change the world, then wanting the world to change you. 

    It turns out you are from a most unlikely maternal lineage. Japanese war camps in Surinam where crying could kill you; a basement in Amsterdam hiding a Jewish teenage girl from the Nazis for four years; a nasty grandmother in the slums of Havana; kids from the French banlieue, all concrete and drugs and funk; a tiny flat in the Bronx with a lost immigrant in its midst. A recovered first cousin rescued from jail. 

     Of course, you and I have had our own battlefield. That night of January 2002, I found out that Islamist extremists, people who epitomized the contrary of what your father and I stood for, had murdered him. Both as an American journalist and as a Jew. You only were a five-month-old fetus, and the world was already at one in your DNA. A little Dutch and Cuban, also French, with a Buddhist mom. American, Jewish, Polish, Israeli, and Iraqi from your daddy. You had traveled five countries in my belly alone, you couldn’t clash civilizations even if you tried. But there we were, amid our own collective madness, yet again. Different parties that had an identity to assert and enemies they believed they could justly hate. It was the land of transgenerational traumas, fed by world politics and guilty silences. If you looked at reality from their perspectives, everyone was at least a little right, and it didn’t matter, not in the least.

    This novel is your tree, my son. These stories are partial and subjective, and they are for us to transcend. There is hope for everyone as long as everyone is the hope. My deepest wish is that it will help you become everything we come from, that it will give our story a new scope and a new meaning; a merciful narrative that will allow us to claim our place in the world as our own.




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