In Tommy Wieringa’s second English-language novel, Little Caesar, a son examines the sexual mores of his mother, a fading porn star making a comeback.
Little Caesar plays out against an international backdrop. Do you see your work as characteristically Dutch?
The Dutch essayist Karel van het Reve once remarked that there is no such thing as “Dutch literature.” Writers from the Netherlands mostly write about times and places that are not their own. There is some truth in that, but overall the assertion belongs to the realm of interesting nonsense. As for myself, there’s a strong Caribbean streak in me. I grew up on a small island in the Dutch Antilles, which led to a preference for Gabriel García Márquez instead of literature from the Dutch delta, which I only learned to appreciate later.
I wasn’t sure whether Little Caesar was comedy or tragedy at times. Is there an underpinning of irony or surrealism?
Márquez made strong objections to the term “magic realism,” remarking once that the reality of the Caribbean is so overwhelming and wonderful that it would be an underestimation to call it “magic.” I also think that there’s nothing more surprising than reality itself. Most of the story lines in Little Caesar find their origins in real events, such as a town teetering over a cliff.
Do you see the son’s fixation on his mother’s past as simply the eternal “mothers and sons” conflict?
I never met a mother who wasn’t more or less jealous of her son’s girlfriend. My mother once remarked that her jealousy started when I was in the cradle. I wanted to capture the horror, shame, and excitement of a boy who finds out that his mother’s sexuality was once mostly public—and isn’t our parents’ sex life one of the most frightful events thinkable? When I was doing research, I interviewed Cicciolina, a once-famous Italian porn star, now in her 60s. She has a son with Jeff Koons, with whom she fought a fierce battle over custody, which coincidentally led to a reform of the U.S. law on child abduction. The fact that a famous porn star and a camp artist like Koons have a son together sparked this story: a search for what kind of person such a child will become.
The circulation of a particular brand of pop music is impossible to ignore in your book. How do you compare pop music to literature’s ability to communicate to the masses?
English may be the world’s lingua franca, but the sentimentality of Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” is universally understood. Compared to music and terrorism, literature is such a silent way of communication. It investigates our worldview, rather than affirming it.