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Hugh Cook

Oakville (Ont.), Mosaic Press, 1990. 324pp, paper, ISBN 0-88962-428-3 (paper) $12.95, ISBN 0-88962-429-1 (cloth) $24.95. CIP

Grades 10 and up/Ages 15 and up
Reviewed by Brenda Reed.

Volume 19 Number 2
1991 March

The Homecoming Man is the story of a father and son and their quests for forgiveness in an unforgiving world. Paul Bloem, recently separated, returns from Vancouver to the family home in southern Ontario, where his father now lives alone. Paul is a professor of modern languages who plans to spend his summer translating seventeenth-century Dutch love poems. However, soon after he arrives in Ontario his mind is taken off his work when he notices that his father is acting strangely. Gerrit Bloem, a Dutchman who immigrated to Canada soon after World War II, now suddenly seems obsessed by the need to keep anything connected with World War II out of his sight. Furthermore, Paul discovers a mysterious locked room in the cellar that his father will not discuss.

It is not until the end of the book that Paul begins to understand the reason for his father's behaviour, and even then he gains only a vague idea of the suffering his father has been through. The reader, however, is privy to the real reason for Gerrit's intense suffering, because the narrative moves back and forth between the voices of Paul and his father, providing us with an insight that Paul never achieves.

The reader learns that Gerrit was suspected of being a member of the resistance movement during the war, and that he was captured by the SS and tortured until he gave away the names of two resistance workers. The descrip­tions of the torture given here are detailed and vivid. Now, at the end of his life, Gerrit is reliving those terrible events, and the guilt he suffered for his betrayal is again overwhelming his daily life.

Guilt and betrayal plague Paul, too, for Paul was at the wheel of his car when he had an accident that killed his six-year-old son but left him completely unharmed. Paul is like his father more than he wants to admit because he too keeps his pain hidden, and he too is unable to reach out to the people that he cares for.

The difficulty of coping with im­mense guilt is explored intelligently in this sensitive and absorbing novel. Cook is a thoughtful writer, and I recommend this novel especially to those who are interested in explorations of moral and psychological issues related to the Holocaust.

Hugh Cook teaches English at Redeemer College in Hamilton, Ontario, and has previously published a collec­tion of short stories called Cracked Wheat and Other Stories.

Brenda Reed, Bishop's College School, Lennoxville, Que.
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