His family came from Indonesia, which is a former Dutch colony. It was called Dutch Indie (Nederlands-Indie) in those days. During the Second World War Indie was occupied by the Japanese, who imprisoned all Dutch people in camps.
In this story, Adriaan van Dis tells the story about his childhood and the difficult relationship he had with his father.
His mother had been married before and had three daughters with her first huband, who was half Indonesian. During the war she and her three little girls were in a Japanese camp and they suffered very much. Her husband was killed by the Japanese.
Shortly after the war she met another man, and left for The Netherlands with him. This man was Adriaan's father.
Indonesia declared independance and there was no place left for the Dutch. The people from Indie came back to The Netherlands, but were not given a warm welcome. The Netherlands had suffered under the nazi's and did not want to hear the trauma's the people suffered under the Japanese. There was also a shortage in houses and these new people needed homes, so there was a lot of friction.
For people like Adriaans father it was very difficult. There was no sympathy for what he endured, he was not considered a warhero and on the whole his health was in such bad condition he could not work.
Adriaan grew up in a household where he was the only one who did not have memories of Indie, or the war. His sisters resent him because what does he know of hunger or pain and he resents them for their unity he has no part in.
His father wanted to make sure his son is prepared for the next war and did this with strict discipline.
Later, when his father has died, the family never talks. The war is never talked about, the camp is never talked about and the harsh beatings by their father are also never talked about. Only when one of his sisters dies, Adriaan finds the courage to look into the family history and find out what happend to his father and how this influenced them all.
This is of course a novel, but a very autobiographical one. Adriaan van Dis knows how to make heavy situations lighter without mocking them, he does not spare himself and it is the mixture of bitterness and humour, detesting your famiy and knowing you are stuck with them that makes this book so very beautiful.
Published in 1994