Long-time Palisadian and acclaimed non-fiction writer Mieke Eerkens will be at Diesel Bookstore in Brentwood on May 23 at 6:30 p.m. to promote her first book “All Ships Follow Me: A Family Memoir of War Across Three Continents.”
Eerkens’ writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Creative Nonfiction, Los Angeles Review of Books and Guernica, among others. She earned an M.A. in English from Leiden University in the Netherlands and an M.F.A. from the University of Iowa, attending the esteemed Writer’s Workshop. Eerkens also teaches creative writing online for UCLA Extension’s Writers’ Program and is a visiting instructor for the Iowa Summer Writing Program.
“I guess this book has been a long time in the making,” Eerkens told the Palisadian-Post. “I grew up with parents who had behaviors that were clearly spanning from their war experiences, so I wanted to know what the stories were behind that.
“While I knew it came from that, I didn’t have any narrative to go with that I knew. I wanted to look more into that when I went back to school for my M.F.A. I thought, ‘This would be the perfect thing to write about for my master’s thesis.’”
Eerkens traveled to the Netherlands (where she now lives), sifting through archives and trial transcripts and conducting interviews with the boys that were interred with her father in the Japanese Dutch East Indies labor camps.
“All Ships Follow Me” traces the experiences of Eerkens’ family during World War II. Eerkens’ father, just 10 years old, was living as a boy in the Dutch East Indies as part of the colonizing Dutch presence. When the Japanese invaded the island, he, his family and thousands of Dutch civilians were interned in a forced labor camp for three years. When the Japanese surrendered, Eerkens’ father was released, returning only to find the Netherlands embroiled in war.
Eerkens’ mother, at this time just 5 years old and living in the Netherlands, is ostracized as the daughter of Nazi sympathizers, left on the streets as her parents are rounded into the same camps that had held the country’s Jews just years before.
When Eerkens’ mother and father meet years later, they move to California, where she was born. Despite the separation of space and time, Eerkens’ parents are still haunted by the events of their past, which linger not only over them, but over their children.
“It is really intense,” Eerkens shared. “The two things that obviously make my book more controversial, stickier, is that my father grew up in colonial Dutch East India as part of colonialism, a really sensitive topic. I was worried about criticism about that. Obviously my mom’s father being a Nazi sympathizer is a very sensitive issue. People are aware of that. I’ve heard people say that I need to be careful writing about these things. I tried to be thoughtful about the way I approached that in the book.”
“All Ships Follow Me” is an examination of the cultural mono-myth that surrounds World War II, thenuance between good and evil, and the blurred line between perpetrator and victim. Tracing the effects of war through several generations, the book delves into the most complex of human emotions: shame, fear and forgiveness. It wrestles with the never-healing wounds of war, with the concepts of residual guilt and generational trauma.
“I think that that’s what my book is trying to highlight, that we can’t make everything black and white,” Eerkens said. “When we do that it’s dangerous because we then fail to see the dangers. Not all Nazis walk around kicking puppy dogs. They behave a lot like we do. When we dichotomize, we look at war as black and white and society as us and them we fail to see when there are dangers.”
Eerkens’ appearance on her tour stop at Diesel Bookstore will include a Q&A discussion.
“[The Q&A] evolves into a really great discussion because these issues are so present right now,” Eerkens said. “The rise in fascism, a lot of these issues resurfacing, it’s important that we talk about them.”
“All Ships Follow Me” is available now on Amazon and all major book retailers.