Review: Tomas Lieske, ‘The cheerful resurrection of Arago’
In February 2018 the novel ‘The cheerful resurrection of Arago’ was published by Tomas Lieske, a prolific writer who writes both poetry and prose and whose novel ‘Franklin’ won the Libris Literature Prize and the Ink Monkey in 2000. ‘The Joyful Resurrection of Arago’ is a triumph of literary fantasy in which various parallel storylines are effortlessly interwoven with the great physical discoveries of the twentieth century.
- Author: Tomas Lieske
- Title: The Merry Resurrection of Arago
- Publisher: Querido
- Year of publication: 2018
- ISBN: 978-90-214-0897-2
The beginning of the story is very prosaic. In 1999, 15-year-old Joys rides through the Dolomites with her parents – a petty criminal and former model – after a visit to Trieste where something went wrong with a shadowy deal her father thought she was making. When a fox suddenly appears in front of the car, her father can no longer avoid it and the car makes an ugly slide close to the abyss. Joys is thrown out and remains on the shoulder, her badly injured parents crash down by car and die.
But then something magical happens. When Joys opens her eyes, she sees the hit and badly battered fox slowly scrambling to her feet as if nothing had happened. If he can, I can too, the girl thinks, and she also struggles to get up. The two set out together, and soon learn to survive in the wild. It is the beginning of an ever closer bond between the young woman and the fox.
The reader was already prepared for unusual events by the short prologue that precedes the description of the car accident. Here we meet physicists Paul Ehrenfest and Niels Bohr in a chic Austrian hotel in 1924. Their conversations are about the possible interpretations of the new quantum theory, about parallel worlds and the extreme limits of the laws of nature where the impossible becomes conceivable.
Meanwhile, the seriously injured Joys is found by two Austrian farmers and taken to a hospital. So suddenly there are two parallel girls: the Joys who is in a coma in the hospital and the (initially still nameless) girl who travels through the wilderness with the fox. Suddenly it also becomes understandable why she does not spell her name as ‘Joyce’, as it was originally intended by her parents, but as ‘Joys’, which looks like a plural form. During the course of the book, we also see the girl performing breakneck tricks as a tightrope walker a few times, with which she accomplishes something in yet another way that balances on the edge of the possible and the impossible.
It all becomes even more fantastic when the wilderness girl, which has since been adopted by a woman as a daughter and has been given the name Lise, ends up in the Leiden house of Professor Ehrenfest, the physicist who already figured in the prologue. In that house in the 1920s, Einstein, Bohr, De Sitter and other scientific celebrities of those days broke down.
In this way, all storylines are eventually smoothly interwoven. The clever thing is that, thanks to his accessible, clear-poetic style, Lieske is able to imagine the most fantastic twists and turns, however possible or impossible, completely logically, so that as a reader you immediately accept everything as true. The breathtaking implications of the thought experiments from modern physics merge seamlessly into the bizarre play of fate in the life of the ‘parallel girl’ Lise. Ultimately, in both physics and the storyteller’s fantasy, nothing is inconceivable.
In this way, Lieske convincingly shows the power of fantasy and language: that we can imagine a happy alternative life when reality is too dull or too grim to exhaust happiness. And that there are no limits to the beauty of ‘the one life that we have’, as the blurb puts it.
Plea for the language
Through mathematician and physicist Willem de Sitter, Lieske also gives the reader a passionate plea for cherishing our mother tongue: ‘Dutch is the language of the lakes and the polder. You should never allow that to be replaced by faltering German or some kind of English. (…) I think that you should honor such a great good and not waste it. ‘