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A northern version of Fellini’s ‘Amarcord’

Aunt Jeannot’s Hat

Eric de Kuyper

‘Aunt Jeannot’s Hat. Scenes from a Childhood in Brussels’ is set in a suburb of the city shortly after the Second World War. The air is alive with the excitement of newfound freedom and life has taken its leave of traditional conventions. The chaos is contagious, and widow De Kuyper’s family share in the unrestrained atmosphere in their own way. The family may have its problems – no father and little money – but their difficulties are not experienced as a burden.

Quite possibly the most beautiful memories in Dutch-language literature

In a life that appears to consist of paying visits to one another, the reader is introduced to the entire family, from grandmother to great-grandchildren, the uncles, brothers and sisters, and the frivolous Aunt Jeannot, who munches chocolates and revels in sensation. In between we encounter the main character, a boy growing up and discovering the world of the imagination in a playful manner. The magnificent and the mundane aspects of a young boy’s life are beautifully depicted in many small details.

De Kuyper manages to activate the reader’s own childhood memories: the biggest compliment a writer can receive.
Literair Nederland
‘Few authors can write in such a filmic style’

‘I was already a fan of Eric de Kuyper before I became his translator. I know of few authors who can write in such a filmic style. As I read, I couldn’t help be reminded of Fellini’s ‘Amarcord’. ‘Aunt Jeannot’s Hat’ is a northern version of this film: an ode to youth, family, a city, but also to the process of remembering itself. 

The novel is a sea of realia, whereby the world it presents is enormously authentic. Paradoxically enough, all those strange details create a familiarity. A 'merveilleux' might be a sort of cake in De Kuyper’s context, but for the generation of Hungarian readers to which I belong it’s a 'mignon' from the Budapest of the 1950s. In what is strange and unfamiliar, we recognise the familiar and recognisable. We feel at home because Eric de Kuyper knows something essential about his childhood.

‘Aunt Jeannot’s Hat’ consists of numerous short episodes that function as miniature genre paintings or pieces of mosaic. Together they form a cheerful, effervescent whole. The wealth of details – the interiors, shops, streets, clothing, customs – enchants the reader to such an extent that the novel reads like a train. The author avoids the pitfall of false nostalgia by combining melancholy with humour.’