In The Blessed Rita we meet Paul Krüzen, who is forty-nine, lives with his father (a retired history teacher) and sells memorabilia from Europe’s 20th-century wars out of the old farmhouse where he grew up. It’s over forty years now that father and son have lived together in the fictional Dutch border town of Mariënveen – ever since Paul’s mother disappeared one afternoon at the height of the Cold War with ‘the Russian’, a pilot who had fled the Soviet Union in a crop duster and crash-landed in the field next to the family’s house.
The hole left by Paul’s mother is deep. The characters more or less fall into it. The shock of her leaving creates a scenario that might in today’s jargon be crudely described as one of ‘somewheres’ and ‘anywheres’ (Wieringa himself grew up partly in a provincial Dutch border town). The Russian pilot and Paul’s mother are footloose anywheres for whom borders, history and tradition mean little. Paul and his father are steadfast somewheres; the trouble for them is that their somewhere is becoming a nowhere.
The air in Mariënveen is thick with the sense of being left behind. In the age of Schengen, the border that once defined the town is almost meaningless and the village is now home to a dry goods store, a Chinese restaurant, a bar and a dwindling handful of misfits