— Love @ 20:34 Comments (4)
Filed under: A, English, Fiction, GLBT interest, YA Challenge 2008, Young Adult
Postcards from No Man’s Land
by Aidan Chambers
For the Young Adult reading challenge.
First line: Not knowing his way around, he set off back the way he had come.
Back cover blurb:
Jacob’s plan is to go to Amsterdam to honour his grandfather who died during World War II. He hopes to go, set flowers on his grandfather’s tombstone, and explore the city. But nothing goes as planned. Jacob isn’t prepared for love — or to face questions about his sexuality. Most of all he isn’t prepared to hear what Geertrui, the woman who nursed his grandfather during the war, has to say about their relationship. Geertrui has always been known as Jacob’s grandfather’s kind and generous nurse. But it seems that in the midst of terrible danger, Geertrui and Jacob’s grandfather’s time together blossomed into something more than a girl caring for a wounded soldier. And like Jacob, Geertrui was not prepared. Geertrui and Jacob lived worlds apart, but their voices blend together to tell one story — a story that transcends time and place and war.
Thoughts: This year I’ve revisited a lot of books I’ve read previously, but only in Swedish. This is another one of those. Aidan Chambers, I think, has to be one of my favourite authors of fiction for young adults. He deals with some of my favourite topics (if you hadn’t clued into the fact that I like gay-themed stories, then I might as well just come out and say it now. I like gay-themed stories! Young adult ones more than others), but in a quiet sort of way that I absolutely adore. Sometimes I wish he’d be more obvious and outspoken, but if I really think about it, I think I like it best the way it is now. It’s all there if you look for it (and you don’t have to look all that hard), but it’s not glaringly in-your-face either, which I have to say is nice. I like a bit of subtlety now and again.
Like I said, I hadn’t read this book in English before and doing it brought a new dimension or two that I hadn’t noticed before. In the Swedish translation, it wasn’t always so obvious that all the Dutch characters, when speaking English, were not using their mother tongue and that they had a Dutch accent (this was also the case with A Countess Below Stairs. I’d never known, before, that Anna’s accent was so noticeable, simply because it was lost in translation).
It was also a couple of years since I last read Postcards, which, again, brought a fresh perspective. The first time I read it, I wasn’t sold on the gay theme yet (that is not to say that I minded it, though). The second time, I had started to read more gay lit in general, so that part of the story appealed to me more than before, and this time, I have new experiences and views that I hadn’t on the previous occasions, and that made me appreciate the story even more.
“[…] Love is not finite. It is not that we each have a limited supply of it that we can only give to one person at a time. Or that we have one kind of love that can only be given to one person in the whole of our lives. It’s a ridiculous thing to think so. I love Ton. I sleep with him when we both want it. Or when one of us needs it, even if the other doesn’t want it then. I love Simone—“
“Simone?” Jacob said.
“She was here the other morning when you left. She called out to you. She lives two streets away. Ton and Simone know each other. They were friends before I met them. We’ve talked about it. Ton never sleeps with women. That’s the way he is. Simone only sleeps with me. That’s the way she is. I sleep with them both. That’s the way I am. They both want to sleep with me. That’s how we are. That’s how we want it. If we didn’t, or if any one of us didn’t, then, okay, that’s it. All the stuff about gender. Male, female, queer, bi, feminist, new man, whatever — it’s meaningless. As out of date as marriage forever. I’m tired of hearing about it. We’re beyond that now.”
I was in a relationship at one time that went really bad, because the other party needed more than I could give, and while at the time I was terribly upset and depressed about it, in hindsight, I think that’s acceptable. That is, I think such a situation is acceptable if everyone involved is totally honest about what’s going on and the thing is talked about. In my situation, it wasn’t really, so there were hard feelings, a lot of anger on my side, and hurt feelings also.
Now I’m in a new situation, where the person I’ve fallen for is on another continent entirely and with another person at the same time as they are with me. I’ve never had an issue with this, because all along, between me and them, there’s been complete honesty and I’ve never been lied to. And this other person, my person, if you will, is okay with the fact that I might at some point want to find someone a little closer to me geographically. I might not find such a person, and if I did, they might not be okay with the situation I’m in, in which case I’m going to have to make decisions based on that. But that’s just how I feel. Everyone’s different, and different things are right for different people.
“[…] I’m not sure I’m — I dunno — strong enough. Brave enough. Not like you and Daan.”
Ton gave a little huffing laugh. “Bravery it isn’t! It’s just how we believe life should be. Not for everyone. But for us. And people who think like us. We’re learning how to live it while we live it. What else is worth doing?”
I’m pretty sure that told you more than you ever wanted to know about me, but can I help it that the book touched me so? ;D
I don’t like all of it, though. The character of Hille annoys me, and Geertrui’s parts of the story, while essential, did not move me quite as much as the present-day story of Jacob, Ton and Daan. In the end, though, the great parts of it completely outweigh the not so good and thus I’m still quite enamoured of the book. Much like Jacob fell in love with Amsterdam.
[…] the day (smiling to himself) he fell in love with the city. For I have, he thought, haven’t I? It’s just like falling for a person. Not wanting to be parted from it, wanting to know everything about it, liking it as it is, the bad as well as the good, the not so pretty as well as the beautiful, its noises and smells and colors and shapes and oddities. Liking its difference from everywhere else. And its history as well as its present. And its mystery, for there was so much he did not understand. And the people who had begun to show him how to see it, Daan and Ton.
Oh dear, I think this might be my longest thoughts on a book so far. I’d better start wrapping up by giving a rating. This is a tricky one. I’m not sure it reaches quite the heights of an A, but on the other hand a B doesn’t feel quite like enough. What shall it be, what shall it be? The deciding factor, I think, will have to be that I have, after all, read it not only once, or twice, but actually three times now, so obviously I like it a lot. An A then. And you should read it too. Just sayin’.