From her white open-plan kitchen we move to the seating area, which is full of winter sunlight, filtered partly through stained-glass artworks that are fitted against the panes. There are books, museum catalogues and cultural supplements spread beneath a low glass coffee table. The furniture is mod‑ ern, as are the pictures on the walls.
We speak in Dutch.
‘You wrote in your email about being interested in the family history and about maybe writing a book,’ she says. ‘Well, the family thing doesn’t really play for me. The van Esses were important in my life for a long time, but not now. So what kind of writing do you do?’
Her tone is friendly but also businesslike. I tell her a little about my work as a professor of English Literature at Oxford University – writing scholarly books and articles on Shakespeare and Renaissance poetry – but she knows most of this already from the Internet.
‘So what is your motivation?’ she asks.
My motivation? I’m not sure. I think hers could be a complex and interesting story. Recording these things is important, especially now, given the state of the world, with extremism again on the rise. There’s an untold story here that I don’t want to lose.