This story is described as “semi-autobiographical.” The main character, whom we meet as a child, is a Dutchman name Eric van Polls who survives the Nazi occupation of Holland, an exhausting, frightening escape to Switzerland, and the war itself. His experiences cause him to question his Jewish-ness, his own hatreds, and his personal sense of justice. The story mirrors that of Van der Heym himself, who acknowledges that writing the novel was a revelatory process: “It wasn't until the last chapter that I truly began to understand the significant correlation between my own experience as a survivor and what is going on in our universe today.”
This is also a coming-of-age novel which recounts Eric’s earliest encounters with girls and women and shows us how he matures in his relationships, especially as he grows older and must cope with cancer. Coming from a cohesive family that survived the Holocaust, he demonstrates a deep reverence for the value of generational ties. Never giving in to cynicism, he also learns to cope with success and figures out that those worldly accomplishments don’t really substitute for spiritual progress. In fact there is a spiritual underpinning to the narrative that assures us all along that Eric will find a safe landing.
Prostate cancer raises inevitable and long-forgotten issues and questions for Eric. In an intellectual attempt to understand what has happened to him he questions: “So all right, so maybe I can’t hold God responsible for this, but if God made me who I am, why the hell didn’t he make things easier for me?” And then concludes, “Of course then that person wouldn’t have been me. That person would have been someone else.”
If it were someone else we would not, perhaps, have had this meaningful book. Though the writing is hardly literary, it is plain and comprehensible and the story radiates potential energy. Eric’s experiences give us a new way of looking at timely and timeless issues.