Maarten Asscher – A House in England
One day we drive, in my grandfather’s dark-blue Rover with the shiny white top, down a broad ring road through a London suburb. My brother and I in the back, as usual, hunkered down in the deep leather seats. Between us the foldable armrest, on which we always try to lay our elbows at the same time.
Out of the blue, Oa says: “This was it. This is where I was born.”
We sit straight up in surprise and turn our crew-cut heads from side to side, to see what he is talking about. Out the back windows, on both sides of the road, we see terraced housing. The four-lane motorway, as it turns out, runs straight through what was once the street where Oa’s birthplace stood. Here, on September 5, 1895, is where he was born. But the spot is already far behind us.
Only much later was I told, and not by Oa himself, that my grandfather’s father had planned to marry a girl who wasn’t Jewish. That was something my great-great-grandfather had no intention of tolerating. And so the two lovebirds lit out for Scotland, where back in 1894 one could already marry without parental consent. One year later, from this headstrong union of Benjamin Asscher and Elisabeth Bree, my grandfather was born, in London.
Although Oa was born in England, he and Grandma Roosje lived together in the Netherlands for years. That was before the war, and that is how their three children came to be born in Holland. So why have they been living in England for so long? In any case, Oa seems to feel completely at home in his native country. Sometimes, in a put-on Cockney accent, he sings: Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner / That I love London so-ooo. And he’s more than just a little proud that, in addition to his Dutch passport, he has also borne the British nationality all his life.
One of the fine things about Kew is that there was never any war there. When the Germans tried to invade England, Churchill chased them off with his fighter planes. The Occupation took place elsewhere, in Europe, and so in Holland too. In the house on Pensford Avenue there appears at first glance to be no trace at all of the war, and when someone does refer to it on the rarest of occasions, it seems to have all taken place here much longer ago than it did at home.
Because I love hearing stories from the olden days, I often try to turn the conversation toward the way Holland was in the years before the war and then, piece by piece, to puzzle out what Oa and Grandma Roosje’s lives must have been like back then. Not that I dare to ask straight out, but if I gather all the bits and pieces, I can put together the story on my own.
So Oa, whom all the grandchildren referred to consistently not as Opa or Grandfather, Granddad or Grandpa, but as Oa, was born in London. Very soon afterwards he moved to the Netherlands, where he went to primary school in the town of Halfweg. Then he attended high school in Zaandam, followed by an engineering study in Delft. My grandmother was born in Amsterdam on May 4, 1900 (“I’m as old as the whole century”) as Roosje van der Molen, eldest daughter of the diamond dealer Aaron van der Molen and his wife Judith Meijer.
Grandma Roosje and Oa met in the summer of 1916 on the beach at Zandvoort, and their engagement lasted for a rather long time. First Oa had to go into the army, where he was stationed on the Belgian-Dutch border during WWI. Once, Oa actually shows me a picture of him and a group of other soldiers on a parade grounds somewhere, posing by two pieces of old-fashioned cannonry. After being discharged, he still had his studies to finish, which he did, and graduated cum laude. Only after that, in 1924, did they marry. They moved to Haarlem, where my father was born in 1925, then to Arnhem and finally to Scheveningen in 1930, when Oa went to work for Shell in The Hague.
As a child, what baffled me was how my grandparents had made it through the war with their three children. All five of them had been interned in “transit camp” Westerbork. No one came back from there alive, did they? What also puzzled me was why Grandma Roosje and Oa had left Holland for good only after the war. Why not simply stay, once the danger had passed? Or, if one truly wanted to leave, why not move to England already in the late 1930s, as soon as you saw that things were going all wrong?
In the British capital, the only physical traces of the war are the open spaces and newly-built offices and flats in The City, where the German rockets and bombs struck during the Blitz. I didn’t realize that at the time; to a child, big buildings are simply big buildings. Later I was able to tell the difference between the historical tissue of the streets and the injuries it had incurred, which in the course of time have scarred over, with glistening prostheses dozens of storeys high that make the historic houses and streets shrink into insignificance. No such scars exist in Kew. Everything in that little villadom suggests, certainly in the eyes of a child, that it has always looked that way and that so it will always remain.
One thing that does have to do with the war is the way Oa pronounces German words exclusively in the nasty tone of an actor playing a German officer in a war movie. When my grandfather is served some tasty dish while dining somewhere outside his own home, he curls his lips and scoffs: Wie bei Mutti zuhause. That was the text on a sign in a café–cum-lunchroom in the Belgisch Park neighborhood in Scheveningen, where my grandparents lived at the start of the war. The manager was so keen on welcoming the occupier that he put up a sign with that tempting text in the front window. Needless to say, my grandparents, who lived in that same neighborhood, at Brugsestraat 21, gave that particular collaborationist enterprise a wide berth.
After the war, Oa not only refused to travel to or through Germany, he didn’t even want to fly over the country. He actually made a fair fuss when my father, in the early 1950s, bought a Grundig radio set with the first money he’d earned as a lawyer.
Except for these rare and sundry anecdotes and observations, in Kew the war remains invisible. Books, photos, souvenirs, stories? There are none, or in any event none that I am allowed to see or hear. That in itself is agreeable, and it makes the house with its big garden all the more a paradise where, to my young eyes, everything is exactly the way it should be.
In Holland, on the other hand, the war is present everywhere you look. The street behind ours, which I walk down every day on my way to school, is named after a hero of the resistance, and in the house we move to after that we play host each year to war veterans who have come for the memorial services. They are impressive old men, who in the woods behind our garden can show you precisely where they took cover in 1944, to make it through the firefights with the Germans. As evidence for their recollections, we find rusty mortar shells buried here and there beneath the thick layer of leaves. I know all about it, but don’t dare tell anyone that I’ve been collecting them at a secret spot in the woods.
Some of the objects around our house in Holland bear palpable traces of the war as well, like my father’s silver napkin ring. At my request, or my brother’s, he is sometimes willing – napkin ring in hand – to tell this one story for the umpteenth time. Right after the war started, Oa wrapped all the family jewels and silverware in a cloth. Then he wound chicken wire around that and dipped the whole thing in cement, until he was left with a large, irregular clump of stone. This he then buried somewhere in Scheveningen. After the liberation, my father’s napkin ring suffered a deep dent from the spade used to dig up the family valuables. My father could have had that dent removed, of course, but he left it like that on purpose. I’m always jealous of that dent. My napkin ring is simply smooth, there’s nothing to it. Things with a story are nicer than things without, even if you can never be completely sure that it actually happened just that way.
Another of those traces is the big painting of bright yellow and red flowers that hangs on my parents’ wall. My father bought it with the money he received from Germany as part of the Wiedergutmachung. He wanted to use it to buy something positive, something light, something that would bring him pleasure. Despite all the reds and yellow, in my eyes it never truly becomes a nice painting. The colors are too garish to be beautiful.
Such war relics don’t exist on my mother’s side of the family, although she has stories aplenty. For example, about how, as a fourteen-year-old, she, her brothers and younger sister and a group of about twenty evacuees spent a couple of months in the cellar of their home in Nijmegen, sitting out the “mortar time”. Whenever I spend a few days at the home of those other grandparents, I like to go along to the cellar, supposedly to view the potatoes and the coal for the stove, but in actual fact to smell the war.
In our bookcase at home is a photo book entitled The Yellow Star, showing the worst of the worst. How often, as a boy of eight or ten, when my parents were gone, did I leaf through it in secret. Gruesome, incomprehensible, fascinating. My grandparents and their three children – which means my father, too – were they actually there? My father has told me that they were at Westerbork, but I never get to hear much more than that.
In the house at Kew too, no ready answer is forthcoming. But then the question itself exists only vaguely in my own mind; there is no way that I could find words for it in all its directness, or actually dare to ask it of anyone at all. On the occasions when Grandma starts to talk about the lessons she gave as a school teacher at Westerbork, the others let her know quite promptly that “we” have no need to hear stories like that. In vain, I try to picture Grandma Roosje as a teacher in front of a class, and then in a concentration camp. Does it even make sense, going to school in a place like that?
Great is my amazement when my father tells me one time, at home, that somewhere in the garden in Kew, somewhere to the left and behind the compost heap – the precise spot is known only to my grandfather and Uncle Dolf, my father’s younger brother – once again lies buried a considerable amount of silver and family heirlooms. Why? And then in England? The war’s been over for a long time already, hasn’t it? My father’s cutting tone when he told me about it let me know how annoyed he was at having had no say in the matter; at the same time, he shrugged it off and said he couldn’t care less.
On one of the rare occasions when the two of us talk about the war at greater length, my father says that Grandma Roosje’s younger sister and her husband were killed at Auschwitz. She was only in her late twenties, her husband a few years older. My father chooses his words carefully. What he does tell me is that, as a child, he went to The Hague for the wedding of these two, his Aunt Greetje and Uncle Jo. It was the first time in his life that he’d had to wear a yarmulke. He remembered thinking it was a strange bit of headgear. That evening there had been a dinner at Hotel Paulez in The Hague.
On the basis of these scanty facts, and thanks to the impeccable German administrative files of that day, I easily find on the Internet that both Aunt Greetje and Uncle Jo were killed at Auschwitz on November 19, 1943. A date in history like that used to sound so far away, and the word “great-aunt” also suggested a major gap in time. Yet that is a distortion of youth, and one which resolves itself in later years. What’s more, Greetje was a good fourteen years younger than my grandmother. When I was born, she would have just turned 43. That already sounds much closer.
As grandson, my history has a dark side too. My mother was the first to tell me about it, and she always looks sad when it comes up. My grandparents, in fact, had already had an “eldest grandson”, named William, after his grandfather. He was the firstborn son of my father’s younger sister, who moved to Antwerp as a newlywed just after the war. One year before I was born, this William died at the age of only three, of an incurable disease.
I have never heard my grandparents mention this William, but when I would stay over at Pensford Avenue in those first few years, as a baby and a toddler, Oa refused to take any pictures or make films of me, though he was always busy with his cameras otherwise. Apparently, he no longer trusted any new life.
In fact, though, there is an entire series of photos of me in Kew as boy of two or three. One time, while Oa was in London during his final year with Shell, my grandmother secretly had a photographer come to the house and do a detailed shoot in the garden. In the highchair. On the ground with Grandma. Crawling. Laughing together. Patty-cake, patty-cake. She must have kept those prints hidden for a while, because Oa would have been infuriated by such a flagrant violation of his ban.
For a long time, the story of William’s extremely premature death remains cloaked in a secretiveness I find ominous, stored away in more or less the same place as the war years. Perhaps those untold stories about the past, about death, Westerbork, war and illness are all clumped together, in the hole with valuables near the compost heap, at the back of the garden at 34 Pensford Avenue. At night, whenever I set out from the vantage of my own bed to explore the house in peace and without interruption, all those stories appear of their own accord, and then of course I can forget all about falling asleep.
Still, I must try to picture the house the way it was, without – unlike what befell my father’s silver napkin ring – doing damage to any of it. In view of the perfect memories I cherish of my endless summer holidays in England, that has to be possible. It’s a matter of exploring with as much precision and diligence as I can muster, and of trying to summon up a picture of all those things I can remember. If I do that, then perhaps I’ll track down things that I’ve actually forgotten, or hadn’t noticed at the time. In any case, my spare bed on the top floor of 34 Pensford Avenue, Kew, Richmond, Surrey is always there for me, and on no other bed in the world do I lay me down to such sound sleep.
Whose idea it was, I don’t know, but it’s clear who carried it out. That was the attorney and fervent amateur genealogist IJ.H.M. Nijgh. In an extensive correspondence, which I inherited from my father in the form of two dossier files, my grandfather and Nijgh put together all the pieces of the legal puzzle to form an interlocking whole, like the miniature Oriental pagoda that fits together perfectly in only one way.
The idea itself was simple enough: namely to make of my grandparents’ “Jewish marriage” a “mixed marriage”. On Grandma Roosje’s side there was no room to manoeuvre, for she had four unmistakably Jewish grandparents and therefore two fully Jewish parents as well. On Oa’s side, however, there was an opportunity to make his Jewish father – who had eloped, after all, to Scotland with the love of his life, Elisabeth Bree, and died in 1934 – vanish, as it were, and to replace him with a non-Jewish father. That could take place only by subterfuge, and that subterfuge had to be so official-looking and convincing that the German bureaucratic machinery would accept as legal verities the lies so submitted, would in fact have no choice but to accept them.
Having spent a few evenings going through the files in their entirety, including a few pages of handwritten entries constituting an aborted attempt by my father to record his memories of the war, all the bare facts are now lined up. My grandparents and their three children are taken from their home in Scheveningen by the Dutch constabulary in early April of 1943, and a day or so later herded onto the train for Drenthe province. On April 10, they arrive at Westerbork. There all five of them are assigned to barracks on the bare, windy plot of land that was the camp at that time. Another “landscape with human figures”, indeed, but this one a morbid inversion of the so-familiar world of Belgisch Park in Scheveningen on the sea.
Besides waiting amid thousands of fellow prisoners for the disaster that could arrive any moment, all the inmates are set to work. Oa has to help put in a paved path to the camp dentist’s office, Zahnstation Lager Westerbork, in barrack 88. Grandma Roosje teaches class in the school barracks, where the children put in long days in order to keep them as occupied as possible. My father is assigned to the Fliegende Kolonne, charged with helping to load and unload baggage from the trains. And, whenever he gets the chance, he plays football. There is even a photo of his eleven, in one of those typical team poses – some of them standing, others squatting, one holding the ball – which, if you didn’t know better, would make the scene seem completely innocuous. That is, until you notice that the clothes they’re wearing do not look particularly sporty, that the players’ ages are quite divergent and their shoes very worn and torn. His sister Judith and twelve-year-old Dolf are put to work as orderlies.
It is uncanny to realize how, during those very same weeks, life went on uninterrupted in the rest of the Netherlands. On the basis of the daily events recorded in the newspapers, one would never suspect that in Drenthe province anything unusual was happening. Fanny Blankers-Coen establishes a new world record in the high jump (1.71 meters). Work anniversaries are celebrated, including that of the carilloneur of the Royal Palace on the Dam, while Feyenoord beats Heerenveen 2 – 1 in the battle for the national football championship. The first female mail carriers appear on the streets of Holland, and on April 17, 1943 Cor Du Buy becomes table-tennis champion of Amsterdam. Hurrah. On that same day, my father turned eighteen in Westerbork. Why did I never ask him how he spent his birthday?
My grandmother’s diary, which starts four years later with their move to London on July 27, 1947, makes no mention of their months in the camp. I never heard Oa talk about it either, or even refer to it obliquely, although there would have been plenty of opportunity to do so during my long stays each summer. Nevertheless, their narrow escape from the Polizeiliches Durchgangslager had to have been a distinctly unnerving, perhaps even traumatic, experience. The logical explanation must be that this was the very reason for their silence; in Oa’s case an absolute one, every bit as absolute as his anti-German sentiments.
A glance at the transport lists found on-line these days shows that, during the time my grandparents’ family was at Westerbork, some 18,000 camp inmates were deported from there to Sobibor; among them, for example, the composer Leo Smit and the printer and later publicist Jules Schelvis. The former was murdered within several days of arriving in Poland, the latter was to be the only survivor amid the total of 3,006 souls who left Westerbork on the June 1 transport. Things could have ended very differently for the Asschers, therefore, especially in light of the fairly improbable story they were presenting to the German authorities at that same moment, with Mr. Nijgh’s help.
The clever thing about Nijgh’s approach lay not so much in the plausibility of his letters, petitions and other documents, but in their compelling structure and form. They were, put quite simply, watertight. As solicitor in The Hague who handled many such “parentage cases”, he also had the right contacts with the bureaucratic offices and persons in charge there.
The family papers inherited from my father contain hundreds of letters, documents, transcripts of notarial affidavits and copies of formal petitions. The plethora of official stamps on them, crowded with swastikas and eagles, bring the claustrophobia and fear of those days palpably close by. Without this successful sleight of hand on paper, there would have been no grandparental home on Pensford Avenue in Kew, my father – who had by then turned eighteen in Westerbork – would have been faced with an uncertain fate at best, and these words would never have been penned, certainly not by the same person who I am accustomed to calling “I”. All this lends what I call a “sleight of hand on paper” the aura of nothing less than a miracle.
The unequivocal heroine of the story, as far as I am concerned, the one who emerges from the files filled with legal and notarial documents, is Everdina (“Evertje”) Bree, born in 1872. She lived in the Dutch town of Baarn, at Noorderstraat 11. The fourth of eleven children to a local saddler, she was two years younger than her sister Elisabeth Bree, my great-grandmother. This Evertje Bree, whom the family affectionately called “Auntie Eef”, was a devout Christian lady, like her older sister. Under the circumstances, however, she suffered no pangs of conscience before her Maker when, as crucial cornerstone to the whole fraudulent story, she stated in the presence of the notary J.C. Th. Groneman of The Hague and two witnesses:
[…] to know most assuredly that Mr. William Benjamin Bree Asscher, mechanical engineer residing in Scheveningen, at Brugschestraat 21, is the son of the English Aryan William Knight. In witness whereof the parties have hereunto set their hands on this date, in ‘s Gravenhage, the sixteenth of June in the year nineteen-hundred and forty-two.
In other words: although my great-grandmother was married to my great-grandfather, my grandfather’s birth was ostensibly the result of her union with a certain William Knight, a non-Jewish Englishman who had then promptly abandoned her. Subsequently, my great-grandfather had raised no objection to the fact that his bride already had a child by another man at the time of their wedding in the Netherlands in 1902, but that still did not make him the boy’s natural father.
The striking thing about this sworn statement, for starters, is that it is a bald-faced lie. Auntie Eef knew damned well that my great-grandfather Benjamin Asscher was the father of her nephew (my grandfather). As Elisabeth Bree’s sister, she knew all the facts of their elopement to Scotland and their marriage without the authorization of Benjamin’s parents, and she was fully aware that a son by the name of William Benjamin (my grandfather) was born of that marriage.
My grandfather officially received the surname “Asscher” only after my great-grandparents were married at last in a Dutch civil ceremony, following reconciliation with the groom’s initially most-unwilling father. Until that point, his birth certificate at the Netherlands Office of the Registrar stated that his name was “William Benjamin Bree”. For the rest of his life, he added his mother’s maiden name Bree to his initials “W.B.” Once settled in the Netherlands, the family quickly grew to include four children: my grandfather was soon followed by a daughter and then two more sons.
The most fantastic thing about the affidavit sworn to by Auntie Eef is that the “English Aryan” William Knight never existed; he was merely invented to complete the story. The surname “Knight” even lends this nonexistent figure a certain chivalric allure, a device that fairly cries out to be exposed. For the Germans, however, that would have been no mean feat. The files of the General Register Office in the U.K. were, of course, not open to examination by the office at the Binnenhof in The Hague whose job it was to rule on the petition. That particular office was a part of the Commissioner-General for Administration and Justice, known formally as the Entscheidungsstelle über die Meldepflicht aus VO 6/41, a reference to ordinance number 6 from early 1941, in which the Germans declared that all Jews were to be registered with the authorities.
As long as the forms were complete and filled out in perfect order, the official reviewers – led by the German solicitor Hans Georg Calmeyer – saw no reason to refuse such a request. There are those who claim that, in such cases, this Calmeyer tended to show leniency wherever he could. But such leniency, if it actually existed, was not required in my grandfather’s case. His dossier was seamless. With the application of an imaginary biological father, after whom (quite conveniently) he was named, Oa was transformed step-by-step from “half-Jewish” to “Aryan” or, as the grisly wartime neologism had it: he was “Aryanised”.
In a historical study dealing with the parentage cases submitted during the Occupation, I read that, of the many thousands of such attempts at legal rescue, only some 50 claimants actually met with success. Yet other historians suggest a larger number of successful, legal “de-Semitizations”. The persecution of the Jews during the war is a question of numbers, and all numbers can be contested: 6,000,000. 100,000. 50. 5. Ultimately, of course, it all boils down to the number 1, for otherwise the world ceases to exist.
A registered letter arrives on April 30, 1943, bearing the redemptive tidings that, as ruled by the Government Inspectorate of Registrars, my grandfather was indeed to be considered non-Jewish: Oa and his spouse were therefore no longer seen as a Jewish couple, but as partners in a “mixed” marriage. As a first consequence, the family was moved on June 11, 1943 from “Internment Barrack 73” to “Internment Barrack 64”. They even mailed a change of address notice to that effect to friends in Voorburg. I had held that notice in my hands before, but only now do I understand it. Number 73 was the barrack for “Jewish couples”, while number 64 was for “mixed marriages”. And at that point, the qualification “mixed marriage” meant: freedom.
Accordingly, on June 16 of that year all five members of the family are freed. The Entlassungsschein, the release pass, given to each of them bears the signature of Westerbork’s camp commander, SS-Obersturmführer Konrad Gemmeker. This officer, personally responsible for the orderly course of mass transports of Jews from the Netherlands to the German extermination camps, was – as an extra-festive addition to the celebration of the fact that Queen Juliana had ascended to the throne three years earlier – released from prison in 1951 for good behaviour. That the date of his release (April 20) coincided with Adolf Hitler’s birthday must have made this loyal Nazi feel particularly triumphant. The rest of his days, until his death on August 30, 1982 (one month after Oa passed away), he spent living in self-proclaimed innocence in Düsseldorf.
When my grandfather went to the Zentralstelle für jüdische Auswanderung (Central Office for Jewish Emigration) on Amsterdam’s Euterpestraat, where he had to formally sign off after their release, he took along his youngest son for safety’s sake: the extremely blonde and blue-eyed Dolf, who would remember the ensuing scene for the rest of his life. SS-Hauptsturmführer Ferdinand Hugo Aus der Fünten himself spanned Dolf’s skull with one hand and proclaimed: “Rein arisch” (pure Aryan).
My grandfather, in spite of himself, must have nodded in silent agreement.
In 1989, this same Aus der Fünten was released from the old panopticon prison at Breda, where he was serving a life sentence. The move was prompted by a personal decision – undoubtedly motivated by sincere charity – on the part of Frits Korthals Altes, the Dutch Minister of Justice at the time. A few months later, the former Hauptsturmführer died of a cerebral haemorrhage at his home in Duisburg, as a free man. The brilliant, Jewish but oh-so-blond Dolf, with his ostensibly Aryan skull, was serving at that moment as Dean and Principal of St. George’s Hospital in London. He was well on his way to being commemorated after his death in 2014 – in typically wonderful British fashion and with nigh-Germanic precision- in the nation’s medical obituaries as Sir Adolf William “Bill” Asscher, bsc lond (1954) MB BS (1957 mrcs lrcp (1957) mrcp (1959) md (1963) frcp (1971) ffpm (1992) duniv kingston (1996). Only that “Adolf”, that never stopped grating, but that was something his parents could never have anticipated back in 1931.
Once the rest of the Netherlands had been liberated, the Asschers were free to move from the house at Huygenspark 55 back to their own home on Brugsestraat. But that was not as easy as it sounds; first, they had to take to court the wife or mistress of a German officer. The officer had either been killed in action or had cut and run, and the woman claimed that the deed to the house was in her name. Once that was solved as well, my grandparents could finally return to a normal life with a new future.
Two years later, from the moment Oa found himself safe and sound in England, the country where he was born and where he felt at home, he must have vowed to flush the entire Dutch war period out of his system once and for all. Any number of family members had been killed in the extermination camps, including one of his father’s sisters, Rose, and her husband, the painter Baruch Lopes de Leāo Laguna. The same went for my grandmother’s sister, Greetje, and her husband Jo. Oa himself had been forced to go to the most humiliating ends to save his own skin and that of his family. To do so, after all, he had even been compelled to deny his own father.
But that was all in the past now, and so the years 1940 – 1945 were struck from his active memory. All things German were met by him, insofar not with denial, then assuredly with the most extreme brand of sarcasm. Was Oa familiar with Multatuli’s famous adage that sarcasm is “the most powerful expression of grief”? Probably not, but it’s a quote that I’m gradually beginning to understand. In the whole house in Kew, I never found a single physical reminder of their experiences in Occupied Holland.
But that claim is not entirely true; on the sly, my grandmother once showed me something she had saved. It was in the parlour, when no one else was around. What she took from the little box turned out to be two National Socialist Movement badges. I was shocked, because even then I knew enough to realize that something here made no sense. With her most innocent little laugh, she then told me that, at a given point, this was the only way she had been able to go with a girlfriend to the cinema in The Hague.
Forbidding as Oa’s stance on the war may have been, my grandmother’s was light and humane. Who knows, perhaps she would have liked to tell me all about it, perhaps she herself – as a poetess, as a columnist – would even have liked to write about it. It would seem that she didn’t dare to do so, for Oa’s sake, for the sake of the life they had made for themselves in England, and for the sake of their house in Kew, which “was a paradise on earth” and “too good and too lovely for words”.
Which makes it all the more painful, therefore, to know that in this paradise, in this beautiful Garden of Eden, a serpent had been crawling around the whole time, bearing its secret within like a poison. If anyone else was aware of it, I was not, even though I’d heard scattered remarks through the years from which I could have spun a few likely tales. Were any of those tales true, or was the whole situation too complicated to extract one truth from it all? After so many years of leaving well enough alone and questioning no further, there is one person I can ask about it, straight to her face, and I am going to do so very soon.
Translated by Sam Garrett