All Ships Follow Me: A Family Memoir of War Across Three Continents

Written by Mieke Eerkens
Review by Elisabeth Lenckos

A war memoir that reads as hauntingly and movingly as a novel, Mieke Eeerkens’ All Ships Follow Me is told not by the survivors, but by their daughter.  She inherits her parents’ sense of displacement and alienation acquired when they endured persecution and incarceration as children—in her father’s case, in the former Dutch East Indies, and in her mother’s, in the Netherlands. Whereas the biographies of Mieke’s father Josef and her mother, Elsje, could not be more different—he grew up the cosseted son of a prosperous medical doctor in what is now Indonesia, while her girlhood was overshadowed by a dissatisfied, middle-class father who joined the Dutch National Socialist Party—both suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome, forced from their homes and deported to a prison camp at a very young age. Although Josef and Elsje recover outwardly and start a family, as well as a new life, in California, they never truly overcome their harrowing childhoods, prompting their daughter to investigate the complicated past that deprived them of their innocence.

As she studies hundreds of authentic World War II records at the Dutch National Archives, Mieke reexamines the ways in which Dutch colonial and national history has been told, and in the process, appraises the extent of personal, individual suffering that has been neglected in the traditional analyses of large-scale, societal purges and reprisals, which assert that people always divide neatly into victims and perpetrators. The result is a fresh and courageous look at Dutch, and indeed global, history, and as importantly, at her parents, whose personal growth, strength, and perseverance are nothing short of marvelous. Highly recommended.