Lisa Boersen chronicles the wise lessons of her Dominican mother          

In “Lisa Boersen boekstaaft de wijze lessen van haar Dominicaanse moeder,” Maarten Steenmeijer (deVolkskrant) writes about Boersen’s Dominican and Dutch roots and how these, along with her mother’s storytelling, influenced her writing. [Also see previous post New Book: Garcia Marquez en de Honeymoonquiz.]

Lisa Boersen, author of children’s books and editor-in-chief of NTR’s youth division, grew up in The Netherlands, but in a sense also somewhat in the Dominican Republic. This is due to her Dominican mother, who ended up in The Netherlands because of love, but used to lavish her children with stories about her country of origin. There were stories about notable relatives, such as Boersen’s great-grandfather who had helped Rafael Trujillo rise to power, but regretted this profoundly when the so-called “man of the people” developed into one of the most brutal dictators in the history of Latin America. (Vargas Llosa wrote the compelling novel The Feast of the Goat about it). There were also stories about Grandma Maria, who packed her bags when her husband turned out to have a mistress. Together with her mother-in-law (!) she quickly opened a take-out restaurant to provide for herself.

These stories have shaped Boersen and she in turn wants to pass them on to her two children. That is why she has now chronicled them in García Márquez en de Honeymoonquiz. One of the most important life lessons that she has drawn from her mother’s stories is that you should not be afraid, that you make your own decisions. And also, that class is not a matter of lineage or money, but of good manners. Grandma Maria also had a good one: “Make sure you get to the top (…), especially if you want to help others. From below, all you can do is yell loudly.”

Boersen does not limit herself to telling her mother’s stories; she also applies them to her own life experience. Because of the strong women in her family (Grandma Maria was certainly not the only one), Boersen had never seen her womanhood as an obstacle. But, she wonders, doesn’t that make her blind? Perhaps she does not pay sufficient attention to victims, as she does not see herself as a victim? Something else that Boersen ponders is that her mother does not understand that the Dutch feel entitled to everything, such as the means to provide for oneself. Instead, her mother feels that life is unpredictable. “You are not entitled to anything in life. Not health, not money, not love or happiness.” It is nice to have all those things, but that can change overnight.

As much as Boersen has been shaped by Dominican stories, they are not enough to make her feel comfortable during visits to her mother’s country. There she becomes rather “stiff, hesitant and shy;” there she seems to be “off by a quarter of a beat.” Instead, Boersen feels completely at ease in the novels of García Márquez. That should not be surprising, of course, because those novels are also stories, not reality.

Translated by Peter Jordens. For the original (in Dutch), see https://www.volkskrant.nl/cultuur-media/lisa-boersen-boekstaaft-de-wijze-lessen-van-haar-dominicaanse-moeder~b8376fea/

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