Rink van der Velde: De Fûke (The Trap)
The unnamed narrator of this novel is a fisherman, particularly a fisherman of eels, living and working on Lake Tsjuke. He is married to Gryt, whom he married not out of love but only because he had made her pregnant. They have a twenty-one year old son, called Germ. The narrator and his family have been less than model citizens. The narrator himself has been in prison many times, for poaching, for shooting (injuring but not killing) a game warden and for beating up a policeman during a strike. He claims that, now he is in his forties, he is better behaved, though he clearly has no love for the law, either the rules or the people who enforce them. Two of his brothers have gone off to the United States. His parents are dead. He has little contact with the rest of his family. He has only been on the lake a few years, after other jobs did not work out, not least because he was blacklisted because of his activities. The time is the early 1940s and the country is under Nazi occupation. Because of his reputation and the remote location of his hut, he is under surveillance, usually from patrol boats. They suspect him of both black market activities and of helping the resistance. They are correct on both counts.
The narrator is not, as he says, political. When the local teacher, head of the local resistance group, asks him to help the resistance, he is at first reluctant. However, he then agrees, to Gryt’s disgust, to shelter those in real danger and he has done so. He sheltered a Jewish girl who wished she had got out to the United States earlier and in whom Germ is interested. He has also sheltered those on the run. At the start of the novel, he is just returning from fishing when he hears a motorbike. He is sheltering a couple of people and hurriedly moves them out. The police arrive and search the place but find nothing. They are suspicious, both of his activities and because there are four beds, so he is arrested. He is more worried about his eels than the arrest. He does not help his case by being quite aggressive to the police and army officers who interview him and even farts loudly in the presence of one. He keeps telling himself to calm down but he cannot help his gut response to bad treatment. Naturally, he tells them nothing. However, he is taken to various places, ending up in a cell with a black marketeer who has been there for three weeks and who has serious bowel problems.
He goes through a series of interrogations, some of the interrogators being generally pleasant and some less so, but he is not admitting to or revealing anything. However, he does get worried when they threaten him about his son. While he is going through the series of interrogations and talking to his cellmate, he is all the time thinking of his past life and how many of the problems he has faced from the law have been to help his son, often fighting to get him food. But it is wartime and he is not likely to get out so easily, when they suspect him of links to the underground.
Van der Velde tells the story of a man who is fiercely independent, who can and will stand up for himself, who wants no part of any group or organisation and who just wants to be left alone to live his life the way he chooses, without interference from others or from the authorities. Inevitably, when he does clash with the law, the outcome is likely to be, as the song says, that he fought the law and the law won. Van der Velde writes in a generally terse style, with little embellishment, but he tells a good story and creates, in his unnamed character, a strong and forthright character.
First published in 1966 by Drachten
First English translation by The Permanent Press, New York in 1997
Translated by Henry J. Baron