The novel gains the speed of a good mystery as Armin dutifully gumshoes his way through his former girlfriend's life, seeing her potential lovers at every turn. Armin's good-guy feminism leaves him more interested in understanding the nature of love than exacting retribution. The factual mystery of Bo's paternity is spectacularly answered, but by that time, Armin has already solved the greater mystery of how to be a father and a lover. — Amy Benfer
Dutch novelist Van Loon's American debut is a whodunit with an irresistible twist: Armin Minderhout, a widower in his 30s with a 13-year-old son, learns that he has been sterile all his life. A doctor breaks the news to Armin after he and his girlfriend, Ellen, endure a battery of tests to find out why she can't get pregnant. The revelation is numbing; Armin's late wife, Monika, who died suddenly 10 years ago at the age of 25, was the love of his life. After deciding not to tell his son, Bo, Armin tries to figure out who could have been Bo's father. The first suspect, a former boyfriend and fatuous consultant named Robbert Hubeek, taunts Armin by describing his interlude with the pregnant Monika in detail. Armin gets enough information to eliminate Robbert from his list, and he also rules out Monika's doctor as a suspect. He seemingly hits pay dirt when he tracks down one of Monika's friends, Niko Neerinckx, and finds a photo of Monika in Niko's family album. But his meeting with Niko's wife touches off a fierce fight with Ellen, leading Armin deep into his own family history and eventually to an even more shocking discovery. Van Loon tells the story through dialogue and flashbacks as Armin retraces his courtship and marriage to Monika; his romance with Ellen, who had been a friend of Monika's; and his close relationship with his parents throughout the upheaval. The inventive story line and the stunning ending combine to make this book a winner. (Apr.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
The American debut of Dutch novelist Van Loon is a kind of domestic thriller about a young father who learns that his dead wife's son is not his child. Armin Minderhout is a latter-day hippie living in Amsterdam, where he and others like him can get pensions from the government and cheap day-care for their children. A freelance proofreader, Armin is married to Ellen, who acts as stepmother to his 13-year-old son Bo. Armin's first wife Monika died a decade before, and he and Ellen have been trying without success for the last two years to have a child of their own. After a series of fertility tests, however, Armin is horrified to learn that he's a victim of Klinefelter Syndrome and has been sterile all his life. How can this be? Monika and Armin were deeply in love-and Bo even looks like Armin. But the test results leave no room for doubt: Bo is not Armin's son. After the initial shock, Armin tries to solve the mystery by doing some research. He first looks up Robbert Hubbeek, a lawyer whom Monika had been dating before she met Armin. Robbert freely admits that he and Monika continued to sleep together after she had started living with Armin-but not for more than a year before Bo was born. A former coworker of Monika's named Nico Neerinckx is the next name on the list: He has a son of his own named Bo, but he's not the father of Monika's boy, either. In a permissive society like Holland's, there is a great deal of sleeping around, and Armin isn't shocked at Monika's infidelity-until he discovers the true identity of Bo's father. And it was? Let's just say there's a good reason why Bo has Armin's eyes. A well-constructed if somewhat dispiriting, perhaps even nihilistic, tale.