After I went on a biking trip to Austerlitz Pyramid I started reading Martin Bril’s book The Little Emperor (De kleine keizer in Dutch). Its subtitle is Account of a Passion, describing the author’s quest in search of Napoleon Bonaparte. That means I am participating in the What’s in a Name reading challenge with another non-fiction book (category: profession)!

The monument in Austerlitz was built in 1804 by the army of general Marmont, to celebrate the French ruling of Holland. Inspired by his adventures with Napoleon in Egypt, he let his soldiers make a pyramid… At first it was called Mount Marmont but soon Louis Napoleon of Holland renamed the structure, commemorating the victory of his brother in Austrian Austerlitz. To be honest this folly isn’t really impressive in real life…

But my trip to this historic site was (of course) not the main reason for wanting to read Martin Bril’s book about Napoleon. My interest was triggered by the first paragraph (in Dutch but I’ll paraphrase afterwards):

“De kist staat open. Op het eerste gezicht zit er niets in, anders dan wat proppen wit, zacht ritselend papier. Eén voor één haalt Mark van Hattem, conservator van het Legermuseum in Delft, ze eruit. Bijna eerbiedig legt hij ze terzijde.
Hij wordt op de vingers gekeken door een jonge, stille Fransman in dienst van het Musée de l’Armée in Parijs – waar de kist vandaan komt. [..] De sfeer is bijna plechtig, hoewel elders in de zaal wordt geboord en gezaagd. De voorbereidingen voor de tentoonstelling ‘Voor Napoleon. Hollanders in oorlogstijd, 1792-1815‘ zijn in volle gang.
Als bijna alle proppen uit de kist zijn verwijderd, blijft er een groot, wit pakket over. Aan de vorm is te zien wat erin zit, zo beroemd (of berucht) is die vorm: een steek, Napoleons hoofddeksel. Van Hattem aarzelt, mag hij het pakket uit de kist tillen? Hij kijkt naar de vertegenwoordiger van het Musée de l’Armée, die glimlacht.”

The paragraph describes Bril’s visit to the Dutch Army Museum in Delft, where he was allowed to witness the unpacking of Napoleon’s cocked hat in preparation of an exhibtion about the emperor’s time in Holland. And… I was working at the museum at that time! When the curator and the French supervisor weren’t paying attention for a minute, Bril managed to secretly touch this relic of Napoleon for a minute! Sssshhht! ;)

Cover De kleine keizerIn The Little Emperor Martin Bril reports of his Napoleon craze: for a long time he read everything about the man and he went on a pilgrimage to several historically important sites to get a feeling of ‘the events’. He paints a vivid image of Napoleon Bonaparte as a person — and also of himself as an author. His enthusiasm is contagious, his short chapters are easily readable and most times arresting.

A few days before he died in april this year, Martin Bril was awarded the Bob den Uyl Prize for The Little Emperor. The annual award is given to the author of the best literary and/or journalistic travelogue of the previous year. I’m afraid the book hasn’t been translated into other languages (yet). But there are a lot of Napoleon aficionados around the globe that might be waiting for another prize-winning book about the emperor? So you never know what happens next.

It would be cool to bookcross my copy of The Little Emperor at the Pyramid of Austerlitz… But nah, I’ll just keep it as a memento! ;)

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