In the Eyes of the Son (英語) ペーパーバック – 2014/7/28
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Peter dreams of life with a camera, but his father doubts he has the toughness required to be a professional photographer, and pushes him instead into a more sensible profession: international banking. Twenty-five years later, dramatic events lead Peter to sacrifice his stable career and family for a photographer's life - in New York. A vicious attack, however, disrupts his first success, leaving him to wonder how he will ever reconcile with a stubborn father with whom he's never seen eye-to-eye.
Hans Brinckmann, born in The Hague, suppressed his dream to embark on a career in writing and joined the Far Eastern staff training program of Amsterdam's Nationale Handelsbank fresh out of high school. He was assigned to the bank's Singapore branch, and then to the Kobe branch in Japan, eventually rising to Tokyo Branch Manager at age 29. Always the "reluctant banker," he nevertheless continued to pursue his career, which eventually took him to New York, where he served as president of the Institute of Foreign Bankers, representing two hundred and forty banks, and as president of a Dutch-American foundation active in cultural exchange. In 1986, Queen Beatrix made him an Officer in the Order of Orange-Nassau for "cultural and professional achievement." He retired from banking in 1988. Since then he has lived in London, Amsterdam, Sydney and Japan, developing his career as a journalist, lecturer, poet and writer of fiction and non-fiction prose. He has published two collections of short stories, a highly-acclaimed memoir, a post-war history of Japan and a book of poetry. Three of his books have been published in Japanese, in translations by Hiromi Mizoguchi. In the Eyes of the Son is his first novel. In 2008, Brinckmann - together with his friend Ysbrand Rogge - held a month-long exhibition in Tokyo of photographs taken by them in Japan between 1951 and 1974, which drew 50,000 visitors. Brinckmann now lives in Fukuoka, Japan. He maintains two websites: www.habri.jp (bilingual English/Japanese) and www.habri.co.uk (English).
The book centers on the life of Peter van Doorn, a Dutchman who was thrown on the path of his first career as a budding banker by his father’s decision, perhaps a rather typical experience for the starting period of the book (early fifties). In his heart, Peter loathes the banking business, even though he becomes quite adept at it, and never forgets his true passion: photography. His father’s rejection of his boy’s dream vocation is all the harder to accept since the father himself was a famous war photographer. In time, we learn the reason behind the rejection.
Following his respectable career to a tormented end, which Peter is finally able to bring about himself, he sets out to pursue his second career behind the lens in Chicago and then New York. This is where it all changes, a swing door to another reality, so to speak. This is where Peter’s past comes alive and mixes with the present to co-create the future. Himself a parent now, Peter struggles to find a way to conciliate with his father, and it all ends dramatically in a heartrending fashion.
In a sense, this is the classical story of the secret life, unlived, ever dreamed of. And of the loving father who is unable to express himself in a way that his boy understands – not until years later, when it is almost too late. Two deep threads entwined, sprinkled with some very interesting flashbacks to a variety of settings: colonial Singapore, big business Chicago (seventies) and a New York City (eighties) trying to find a way for the races to coexist. None of it is easy, but all of it is life.
Readers familiar with Mr Brinckmann’s other writings, in particular his seminal The Magatama Doodle and his engrossing collection of short stories, The Tomb in the Kyoto Hills, will find themselves nodding more than a fair few times in recognition of the themes and overall feeling present in the book. Still, as the author insists in the preface, In the Eyes of the Son is a work of fiction and should be read as such. Whatever angle you apply, this is a very worthy read. It shows Mr Brinckmann’s style in fiction maturing and it is an outstanding novel by any standard.
Reviewed by Stephen Mansfield
When Peter van Doorn’s father disparages him for failing to have the courage and creative opportunism to take the photo of a man in his death throes, the snub is enough to make him mothball his Leica and dreams of becoming a photographer, and take up instead a career in international banking. This is no bad thing for the reader. In some 300 pages of compelling, precisionist storytelling, the author Hans Brinckmann, writes about times and places few of us are familiar with.
Transitioning from post-war Europe to the Singapore of the 1950s, the writer situates us in a world where the British, administrators, possessed
of an absolute sense of entitlement, are living in the twilight of empire. In so doing, he provides us not simply with a fictional narrative, but an intriguing post-war document.
Readers who enjoy novels centering on the ordeals of freelance photographers, like Christopher J.Kock’s ‘Highways to War,’ will appreciate Brinckmann’s careful fictional study and historical reconstruction. His description of the magic that takes place in the darkroom, when “ images come to life in the developer, like ghosts materializing through the walls of a haunted house,” will be meaningful to anyone who has experienced their prints visualizing in that way.
Van Doorn rails against a life that has trapped and denied him the cultural existence he craves, but it is a longing that keeps his soul striving and alert. The novel’s description of thwarted ambition is, in a sense, the old battle between freedom and conformity, but as the author demonstrates, the former can be greatly facilitated and made meaningful with the aid of talent. For an artist, even love, family and the prospect of a secure career can be opponents of personal ambition. Peter must grapple with the impossibly high standards of a father, an ex war photographer, and a wife who, however sympathetic, epitomizes the wire trap of compromise. Serious novels often concern themselves with objects of desire that are irretrievable. In real life just as in fiction, ambitions can be nurtured, abandoned, or put into cold storage. The latter is the case with Brincnkmann’s protagonist, who, while pursuing a career in finance, never quite forgets who he should be.
Judging from the biographical details provided, Brinckmann’s story contains strong autobiographical elements, the writer having completed a similar training course in banking when a youth, and to have gone on to work for a Dutch bank in Singapore, before developing his career in a number of world cities, including Tokyo, Sydney, London and New York. The hallmark of a writer as urbane as Brinckmann is that he can balance intimacy and distance, creating a narrative that draws from his own experiences, but remains firmly within the realm of fiction. Written with subtlety and force, Brinckmann brings his main character to the point of no return. As the time approaches for van Doorn to make the decision of his lifetime, the novel tightens, along with the knots of tension that make accomplished novels worth reading.
Brinckmann’s story is both an old and new one, its synthesizing energy aligning contemporaneous incident with archetypal emotion. Crucially, from a reader perspective, it is also a damn good yarn.
The book’s main character Peter is faced with decisions the author apparently also had to make albeit under different circumstances. Perhaps that’s why Peter’s struggle of choosing between a comfortable life in banking and the frugality of a photographic career are so well described, and in such a heartfelt way. For what makes the book so readable and Peter's quest so absorbing and human, is the author’s exact choice of words in describing that struggle, with the help of a cast of fascinating and convincing characters. He tackles the universal problem of the artist trying to find a way to express his creativity against an opposing tide. Highly recommended reading.
The repeated moments where the story takes a surprising turn makes it a page-turner.
Peter, the protagonist, gradually develops from a somewhat naive young man, dependent on his dominant father, into a rounded human being, who takes responsibility for the increasingly hard decisions in his life. From successful banker he turns into a driven photographer, with far-reaching consequences.
As a man who dares to make choices in his life, and who can handle conflicts and dilemmas, he is also able to give his son the freedom to chose his own path through life. Although, own path?? Read this book!