“Backstories” by Simon Van der Velde

This book is a collection of short stories with a twist. As the title indicates, they are stories about famous people before they became famous. So, even when you’re enjoying the characters portrayed, you’re also playing the game of “Who is it?” The ending is often a final clue that makes it all fall into place with a satisfying click.

These stories are a wonderful demonstration of how “the child maketh the man.” Each protagonist is displayed against a finely detailed background of conspiring setting and characters that wear away at the soul, and each shows how deeply these elements are affecting him or her. Or them, in one or two cases.

The first five or six are quite similar: stories of abused and disadvantaged children who turned out exactly as we expect them to, once we figure out who they are. Some of them turned into such wonderful people we can hardly believe the backstory, but Mr. Van der Velde’s writing has such veracity that we feel has done his homework. Others turn out to be such horrible people that we wonder why we felt so sorry for them when they were young.

But then Van der Velde throws a curve and makes the story about a supporting character – parent, perhaps, or victim – and the book takes on new interest and a new challenge.

A beautifully drawn set of accurate character sketches of real people, with a puzzle thrown in for icing on the cake.

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

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