The idea for this book took shape on a business trip to Ceylon the author made with Christopher Ondaatje, the brother of Booker Prize winner Michael Ondaatje. In the 1780s two of their ancestors had championed the popular movement that brought to the Dutch Republic the first democratically elected government in Europe, a few years before the French Revolution. Hendrik Hooft the elder, burgomaster of Amsterdam, was the father-figure of this democratic movement; young Pieter Ondaatje, a student from Ceylon, its most eloquent rabble-rouser. Their descendants follow in the footsteps of their famous ancestors. They walk in the jungle of Ceylon and visit inns and stately homes in Amsterdam and Utrecht. The American patriots were the example for the Dutch democrats and the Dutch Republic was the second nation in the world to recognize the United States of America. Burgomaster Hooft’s support was decisive. He also helped John Adams, the then American envoy in Holland, to raise loans for the Congress. In 1783 a grandson-in-law of Hooft sailed to the United States, became a friend of Thomas Jefferson and stayed with Washington at Mount Vernon. The description of his visit is here published in English for the first time.
Of the Dutch edition, De Telegraaf said, “a thrilling and very personal history that reads like a novel,” while NRC Handelsblad wrote, “Hooft writes with the spontaneous and inspiring dash of a writer who is personally involved in the history of his country.“