A few months ago, I was at the bookshop when my eyes fell on a book with a vintage cover: Menthol. And vintage covers always capture my attention. The summary of the story immediately made me want to read this book, so I bought it. A few weeks ago, I finally had made the time to read again.
I love looking back to the past for various reasons. Inspiration is an important one. How did people live in certain eras? Literally how, because there are a lot of dark pages in every era. Also, how did they cope with certain day-to-day problems? When you look at your social media timeline nowadays, it shows more than ever how the interesting opposites of judging and asking for respect can be found in one sentence. In this digital era, groups can easily be formed to share knowledge with each other, support each other or to find people who have the same interests or opinion like you. Back in the day, you were on your own.
What’s the book about
It’s the (real-life) story of Joseph Sylvester, who was born on the Caribbean island Saint Lucia. From an early age, Joseph Sylvester wanted to make something of his life and explore the world. From Saint Lucia to the United States. And from the United States via Antwerpen to Holland in the 1920s. Via several sideways and small jobs, he worked his way up to salesman on the local markets. Eventually, he brings a product to the people that wasn’t so common in the roaring twenties: toothpaste. It gave him the nickname Menthol. He ended up in Hengelo and married the love of his life: a local mannequin called Anna Marie “Roosje” Borchert. But this is not your ordinary romantic love story. Anna Marie was a Dutch girl and Menthol was a man of color. This happened in the 1920s, so you know what time it is if we are talking about interracial marriage. Despite the opinions of the crowd, they got married. Difficult times because in the society of the 1920s, interracial marriage was almost unthinkable. But there are other aspects that had a great impact on their life: death of loved ones, The Great Depression and World War II for example.
Life motto to live by
There is one silver lining in this story. A great life motto to live by: Hold your head up high and don’t let them get you down while you’re following your dream. Thinking without automatically following the crowd, in a time where you are expected to live by stereotypes that have once been set. It really shows gut and character to fully go against it in an era where you are expected to obey certain (unwritten) society rules. That’s what makes this book so fascinating.
It’s a really interesting life story where Roosje & Menthol (both open-minded people), go through stormy weather. Starting with Menthol and his mentality to get everything out of his life in an era where he is seen as a less worthy man. Then we have Roosje. Also not your typical 1920s gal. She has a spicy attitude and basically does what she wants, not wat her parents and/or society want for her. This book also follows their journey as a married couple. It’s actually a biography but it reads like a novel.
Why should you read this book?
If you’re interested in history and life of people in forgotten eras, you’ll definitely be interested in this book. But let’s say you’re not. There is another reason to read it: inspiration. And I’m not talking about internet meme inspiration this time. Remember all those magazines that fill their content every month with stories about following your dreams, inspiration and last but not least: how to be yourself? Here is a real-life story that makes the follow your dream and be yourself part so concrete. Menthol & Roosje did it before it was cool.
*The book is only available in Dutch*