Fire and Air is a book that grows as you read it. It doesn't seem like much will happen at the onset, but it is truly one of the saddest--I want to even say most powerful--books that I have read in some time.
The author, Erik Vlaminck, is Flemish. The original text was written in both Flemish and Dutch and was published in 2011. This is the first translation (done by Paul Vincent) to reach Canada, which is strange considering the majority of the novel takes place in Southwest Ontario where many Dutch and Belgians emigrated after WWII.
It's a story of a very broken family and the difficulties that three generations must endure. Elly was born and raised in St Thomas, Ontario to a Belgian father named Tony and a Dutch mother, Mina. Tony seems to care much more about racing pigeons (which he keeps in a coop next to his house) and Belgian beer than he does his family, although he has a soft-spot for his daughter. Mina is a devout Roman Catholic that has grown very tired of Tony's antics: he takes trips back to Belgium without them and has heard that he spends most of his free time in the nearby town of Delhi, drinking at the Belgian bar. He is a bit (generous) of an unstable individual (evidenced by the shooting of his own birds and the poisoning of cats in the neighbourhood,) but Elly favours him to Mina nonetheless. Tony ends up leaving Canada for good one day--his wife would have to care for their daughter alone.
Fast forward some years and we find Elly in Belgium searching for Tony. His mental health issues seem to have been passed along to his daughter: she only really feels alive when in pain, is very insecure and empathy isn't her strongpoint. She tracks down Dad only to find that he has another family in Belgium, complete with a half-brother. Tony refuses to meet with her and so she does something completely nuts (not telling what) and heads back to Canada.
Further on down the timeline, we meet Elly's daughter, Linda. Linda does not suffer from mental illness, but that doesn't mean that she doesn't have a lot to deal with. Her mom now calls herself Martha and she is falling apart. Her grandmother is old and alone. Linda has a lot on her plate.
I wish I was able to read Flemish and Dutch. Not that Vincent didn't do a wonderful job, I just feel like it would be impossible to capture everything written if it isn't your native tongue(s.)
It's a difficult read: not because of the language, but the content. And not difficult in a bad way either. It is Heavy (capital H intended.) I find that anything involving mental health issues takes its toll on me. That said, I highly recommend it. It's not a book that will very soon pop up on the bestsellers' list, but it is a hidden gem that I was fortunate enough to have recommended to me.
Fire and Air is available now.