14 Days in May

A farewell to my father, a man who should have died sixty years ago. A true story.

Non-Fiction - Memoir
125 Pages
Reviewed on 07/27/2020
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Author Biography


Arthur van den Elzen (1964) was born in the Netherlands. He studied Communications at the University of Nijmegen in his home country and did his thesis at an educational radiostation in Riobamba, Ecuador. Afterwards he worked for two networks of these so called Radios Populares in Ecuador (6 years) & Guatemala (3 years), before settling down in Ecuador.

Nowadays, he runs a hotel & restaurant in the Andean market town of Otavalo, together with his wife Wendy. Also he permanently works on a personal blog (travelartway.com) and writes nonfiction books. He has published five books so far (mainly in Dutch) and is working on a sixth. Histories that took place in Mexico, Guatemala & Ecuador. 14 days in May is so far the only personal story he wrote about his family. Arthur’s first book in English.

    Book Review

Reviewed by Joel R. Dennstedt for Readers' Favorite

Some memoirs seem destined to impact other people’s lives with an intensity far beyond the mere recording of the various family memories involved. Such is 14 Days in May, Arthur van den Elzen’s eloquent memorial to his father, Ad van den Elzen, a Dutchman born in a tiny village in the Netherlands in 1930. Ad van den Elzen’s otherwise normal life was largely circumscribed by a debilitating accident suffered just when he was growing into manhood, a shooting accident occasioned by a military comrade who basically obliterated van den Elzen’s face. An accident that could easily have ended any man’s life right then and there, or upon survival should have, at the very least, derailed any future life from a semblance of normality. None of this, however, genuinely explains the deeply moving impact of this fascinating book.

Arthur van den Elzen’s tribute to his father, 14 Days in May, far from offering but a recollective story based on one family’s past, is first and foremost an enthralling tale of love and courage. Thera (Kappen) van den Elzen, Arthur’s mother, is the most heartening personification of an enduring, undying, devoted love one is ever likely to encounter, and the “object” of her love, victim of that devastating accident, is one of the most admirably enduring, undying, persistent men ever to inspire another man’s wish for emulation. Together, these two humble but indomitable human beings dominate this lovely book with an oddly normal if transcendent expression of true love. To say this book inspires is to understate its true impact on the reader. In truth, it will make you proud to be a human.

Jack Magnus

Arthur van den Elzen's 14 Days in May: A Farewell to My Father, a Man Who Should Have Died Sixty Years Ago is a nonfiction historical memoir. The author had moved to Ecuador, where he had a wife and child, but when he received word that his dad was gravely ill and dying, he couldn’t wait until he reached his family home in The Netherlands. Three months earlier, his dad had called to tell him the worst possible news -- he had terminal cancer that had spread throughout his body. Would Arthur get there in time to see his dad one more time or was he too late? As he considered the unfairness of the death sentence brought on by illness, the author recalled the time back in 1951 when his father was shot in the head while serving in the military. Ad van den Elzen was fairly ordinary and had no issues with his service in the Regiment Hunters of Limburg. Things changed forever for him while he was keeping watch as a guard commander. His duty station was sitting near the telephone in the guardhouse. The mate who was on watch with him left his rifle loaded and armed -- and hanging over his shoulder. When he went to remove it, the rifle went off, and the bullet drilled right into Ad’s face. There was no way anyone could survive such an injury, even the doctors at the hospital said as much, but somehow Ad van den Elzen had survived.

Arthur van den Elzen’s 14 Days in May: A Farewell to My Father, a Man Who Should Have Died Sixty Years Ago is a fascinating glimpse at The Netherlands after World War II. The author interweaves the current situation of his father’s imminent death from cancer with that accidental shooting in 1951 and the effect that it had on his father’s life. As a long-term student of World War II, I also appreciated that part of his story which dealt with Ad's and his wife’s childhoods, and the impact that the German invasion and eventual liberation had on them and their families. Van den Elzen’s historical accounts make starkly compelling reading, and they work quite well in fleshing out the biographies of both Ad and Thera Kappen, his fiancee and later his wife. This memoir is eloquently and beautifully written, and the sixty-year span dealt with is covered with grace and love. It’s most highly recommended.

Lesley Jones

Although he had been expecting that dreaded phone call for a while, when it finally came, it was a devastating shock. Rushing from Equador to be by his 81-year-old father's bedside, Arthur feared he would not make it in time. Luckily, Ad was a fighter and used to battling near-death experiences. Sixty years earlier, Ad had been shot while serving in the Regiment Hunters of Linburg. Against all the odds and to the astonishment of the medical staff, he survived. Follow Ad's incredible story which spans sixty years and his immovable resolve and determination to overcome adversity. Ad's strength of character helped him to overcome the odds, marry his sweetheart, and live each day with courage, joy, and vigor. Arthur van den Elzen's 14 Days in May is a story you will never forget.

Arthur van den Elzen's 14 Days in May is an inspirational tale of love, heroism, and indestructible relationships that will have you hooked from the first page. The relationship between the author and his father was iron-clad, the last meeting between them was absolutely heartbreaking. The entire memoir was filled with interesting historical facts and stories and the footnotes added another layer of incredible interest. I was also intrigued to learn how the Dutch suffered terribly during WWII. The photography and newspaper articles were wonderful and definitely brought realism to the story. I especially loved Thera; her support and undying love for Ad was enviable. Ad's zest for life as he faced death after the dreadful shooting, then in 2011, is an incentive for everyone to lead a life filled with love, memorable experiences, and kindness. I could totally relate to Arthur's reaction to the news about his father; he relayed his emotions throughout with such honesty and bravery. This quote from the book certainly sums up how through tragedy we learn important life lessons: "My theory is that these moments of impact, these flashes of high intensity that completely turn our lives upside down actually end up defining who we are." A fantastic read.