Reflections on a Book

Reading “Reflections” started an interesting 25 year-journey of searching and revelations in my life. I first read “Reflections: A Love Story”, by the South African author Eleanor Baker, when I was 16, living in Israel.  One of my classmates pulled this book out of the shelf in our high school library: “You have to read it!” she told me, and her eyes glistened with a dreamy look. Having no better reading choices, I obeyed.  I was hooked the minute I started reading it, I could not put the book down. It was one of those books that you are dying to get to the end to discover how things resolve but on the other hand you wish it would never end. “Reflections” tells the story of 28 year-old Lize Bergen, a young South African woman who moved to Brussels to receive medical treatment for a rare blood disease. After four years of battling her illness, when she is tired and weak, she meets 42 year-old Charles Ashton, a recluse millionaire. An unusual reluctant friendship develops between them. Charles convinces Lize to marry him so he can take care of her. Slowly, their formal marriage agreement develops into a gentle and beautiful love story. 

Eleanor Baker

Over the years I had read many love stories, but not many left such an impression on me. When I was 19 I went to Brussels hoping to look for the places and people that were mentioned in the book, hoping to bring this story to life in my own life. I also had a big crush on Charles Ashton and I was hoping to find him or a version of him. To my biggest disappointment, I found none of what I was looking for in the European capital.  My search ended with the comfort of French-fries rolled in a newspaper dipped in mayonnaise, and an assortment of delicious Belgian truffles. I borrowed “Reflections” from my local library almost every year. Each time I read it, I savored and cherished every minute of the magical journey this beautiful love story took me on. When I moved to the US, I could not find this book. I searched online and in second hand bookstores, but it was not an easy book to find. One afternoon, on November 17, 2002, after almost two years of searching, I had a strong gut feeling that I had to check again for this book on amazon. I went to the computer and clicked the name and … nothing.  I stared at the screen for a few minutes refusing to accept the reality that contradicted my intuition. I hit refresh and to my shock, amazement, and joy someone just posted this book for sale. I snapped-up the book immediately, before anyone would have a chance to buy it before me. Immediately after receiving the book I started to read it, devouring every word and every sentence of it. In a way, it was like reading a new book, because it was the first time I read this book in English. From that time on, I started a tradition in which I read this book every year in December, but most times I’m itching to reread it by June. 

Weerkaatsings - Reflections in Afrikaans

The reason it was so difficult for me to find a copy of “Reflections” in the US, is because it was not published here, my copy came from a library in Winnipeg, Canada. Eleanor Baker originally wrote this book, like her other books, in Afrikaans. “Weerkaatsings” was published in South Africa by Human Rousseau in 1984, when it also received the FAK-Helpmekaar Prize given for books that help promote Afrikaans literature. It was the only book she translated to English.  “Reflections” was published in the UK by Weidenfeld and Nicolson  (now Orion) in 1986 and after that it was translated in to several languages, including Hebrew.  It was also published as a serial in Danish and Finish Magazines. 

Hishtakfuyot - Reflections in Hebrew

I shared the book with only a few friends of mine whom I truly trusted that they would return it to me. My friend Virginia pointed out to me that Lize’s behavior was not American. Today when I see the world through the eyes of an American woman I understand what Virginia meant; Lize is more submissive and apologetic than any American women would be since the late 1960’s.  Despite that fact, the story is still beautiful. Reading the book made me very curious to know more about Eleanor Baker. I learned that she lived in Brussels due to her Husband’s diplomatic service.  The book is dedicated to Gerry and Hester who also appear in the book as Lize and Charles’ mutual friends. I wish I could discover more about these people and what their influence was on Baker when she wrote this story. The way Baker described Lize coping with her illness made me suspect that she had experienced something similar in her life. Years later when I was searching for more information about her, I learned that she passed away on July 1st, 2002 at the age of 57 from cancer. 

When I learned screenwriting I fantasized about getting the rights to adapt this story into a movie. I am actually very surprised that no one before me thought about this. The story will have to go through some changes to fit our modern reality, but the core of it is still very beautiful and relevant. I also think that Seattle would be a perfect location to film this movie; it has the same overcast, grey, and rainy weather, like in Belgium. The Seattle Cancer Alliance could be where Lize is being treated; the Columbia Tower could be Ashton Tower, the tallest building in town that belonged to the Ashton family; Lize can recover in a vacation house in Mexico instead of the one in Italy; and one of the fancy houses on Lake Washington could be Charles’s house in the suburbs where they lived together after Italy. 

A view of Seattle from Columbia Tower

When I read the book for the first time at the age of 16, I started my own emotional journey of discovery. As I mentioned earlier, I fell in love with Charles Ashton’s character. I decided then that the man I will marry will have to be like him. It was a beginning of an obsession that affected my life for a quarter of a century. As I started dating I compared every man to my ideal character, if they failed the first screening I refused to see them again. When I met Ari, I found a man with great potential to fit into my ideal male prototype. During our 13 years of marriage my projection on him was cracked several times. I was very disappointed and angry whenever it happened. Reality forced me to learn to see Ari for the person he is, accept him, and simply love him as he is, without any foreign projection. The most shocking revelation regarding my infatuation with Charles Ashton came to me only recently. Getting closer to his age in the book I have finally realized that Charles and I are very similar in our personalities and that in fact I fell in love with myself, with my animus – my masculine inner personality.