Herman Brusselmans returns to his youth. Tea 77named after the address in Hamme where he grew up, makes the reader cry with laughter and cry with tears.
For years Herman Brusselmans announced the definitive novel of his youth, for years interviewers wanted to know when the mythical book would finally appear, for years his readers eagerly awaited it – and now, on the 65th birthday of the eternal Young Supreme The God of Flemish literature. , it’s finally here: Tea 77 appeared.
Theet 77 is the address in Hamme in East Flanders, where Herman grew up as the son of the hot-tempered cattle dealer Gust Brusselmans and his sad, sweet wife Lea. “The tea was magical,” Brusselmans wrote in my hair is long‘Theet was historic, Theet was a legend. If you said you were from Theet in Hamme, the hat of respect was raised’.
The release of Tea 77 compares well with The book about Violet and Death, Gerard Reve’s book that was supposed to make all other books redundant, except the Bible and the Telephone Book. Reve, Brusselmans’ literary exemplar, advertised his opus magnum for years, and was disappointed when he published it in the winter of his life—for myth always lags behind reality.
Brusselmans has long ceased to care about the wishes and expectations of critics and juries of literary awards. Never has a book by him been awarded (only Beautiful eyes from 1984 once received a tiny prize from the literary magazine Yang). Critics always demand that he mature and stop repeating himself. Reve has already given the ultimate answer to the same reproach: ‘Who else shall I repeat?’
So Brusselmans devours, raves and bullshits one novel after another. Number 83? Number 85? He himself has lost count. “Your novels don’t have a story,” it reads Ex-writer, ‘go on and on, without beginning and end, nothing worthwhile ever happens.’ He chose absurdism. For nonsense – and it is poorly understood. “And I thought: if you want me a serious book, drop dead, because you sure don’t think so. Tea 77if it ever comes, will succumb to seriousness?”
And yet, and yet. Nevertheless, the Brusselmans decided not to put off the mythical book any longer and take it seriously. He wanted to go back to Hamme with his young girlfriend Lena – who will soon give birth to their son, who will be named Roman – to question the witnesses of his youth.
He already had the first sentence before he started: ‘I was a drummer in Hamme.’ And besides, he had memories, doubts, assumptions, images, fragments of dreams, ‘and a need for the stories of the witnesses’. Because everyone was dead. Only Roza Coestert, 101, was still alive. Brusselmans drove to her with Lena in the back of the Triumph. Roza told about the residents of Theet, about Herman’s father’s cattle business, about the café that his grandmother Maria ran at home and about the time when his grandfather Frans was not yet demented. But already crazy.
The very old lady had never heard of many things, and Brusselmans had to use his own memory for those things. And if that failed, he had to rely on his imagination. It’s what strikes you the most when you see it Tea 77 begins: his adventures as Slag, the gifted drummer in the rock band The Twelve Waffles, and Snot, a talented soccer player with Vigor Hamme, are not recorded authentically or melancholic, but with bravado. Like tall tales.
In the account of his earliest sexual adventures, Brusselmans goes completely overboard, which, if we are to believe the author, and therefore we should not begin already before he was fourteen. Every time Herman asks a girl after the act if she can blow out the flame of his lighter with her cunt. If the blowout fails, she can also brush his nose with her labia. Or he blows out the flame himself. “I held the still-burning lighter away from my ass, farting like a hurricane, but instead of extinguishing the flame, there was a flash of flame that set Marloes pubic hair on fire.”
As Tea 77 progresses, it becomes more disturbing. You long not only to cry with laughter – and I did – but also to cry with tears. Or both at the same time. Brusselmans goes in search of the dark sources of his existence, of the experiences from his youth that shaped him. He looks the monster of his fear in the eyes and makes the experiences that have plagued him moan and talk.
He writes about the daily beatings he received from his father, how his father beat his mother – which only stopped when Herman and his brother hit back hard – and about the animal suffering. The removal of the cows and calves in the yard, the hasty slaughter of the beloved bull, Little Joe, by hitting it in the brain with a hammer and then slitting its throat with a butcher knife.
Folly in the genes
Ultimately leads Tea 77 to the scripture itself. The dreams of a career as a drummer and football player are shattered, and his life takes on meaning and significance almost in passing when, as a student in Ghent, Herman begins to write stories, ‘absurd fools, nonsense that I liked’. ‘Writing?’ says his father. ‘Also that? Be careful not to go crazy. Many artists are crazy as a back door.’
The madness is in his own genes. Like his grandfather Frans, Herman couldn’t help but make fun of people at a young age. His mother Leah tells him: ‘It’s a dangerous game you play with other people, stop it as soon as possible or you will suffer the consequences. People will distrust you. They will think: he says this, but means it. They will think: he will tear us away. And they will avoid your company. You will be a lonely man.’
Herman knew his mother was right. But he couldn’t help but fab, go too far. talk about. Writing. “Life had to be turned upside down. Life should have meaning. I knew with three quarters of an hour certainty that it would not happen. As I said goodnight to my mother, I thought that I wish I could help you and myself. She smiled, with that smile where sorrow does not go unnoticed.’
With that smile on my face I hit Tea 77 closed.
Herman Brusselmans, Tea 77Prometheus, 424 pp., 25 euros.