MACLEHOSE PRESS, £12.99 Order for £11.69 (free p&p) from the Independent Bookshop:08430 600 030
Man on the Move, By Otto de Kat
The life and times of a daredevil
Monday 31 August 2009
In a Dutch village in about 1930, a tearaway youth, Rob, attends a recital organised by his father the mayor, and given by a visiting organist whose name – Albert Schweitzer – means nothing to him.
Rob has distinguished himself through daredevil stunts, such as climbing onto the roof of a moving train, and through his defiance of his father, a former officer in the East Indies whom he nevertheless loves. To his surprise, the philanthropist Schweitzer's accounts of Africa appeal to something very deep in him.
Not that Rob turns suddenly virtuous. A wild episode with a girl and a motorbike crowns his career of social unacceptability. So he leaves the Netherlands, not for philanthropic activity but for South Africa, and opportunities for enterprise. He does not succeed, but prefers the course of adventure over the demands of humdrum existence.
Besides, for all his hard man's lifestyle – whoring, dog-races, casino-going – he feels the pains inherent in existence. The exquisitely done story in this novel's first chapter, of his friendship with the black African boy who assists him down a goldmine, tells us this all-important truth. Rob's life, not merely in Africa but in the hellish theatre of the Second World War, amounts to a distorted reflection of Schweitzer's.
He shares the latter's disregard for convention. We watch him endure capture by the Japanese, followed by the appalling slavery of the Burma Road. During his most extreme tests, "the past was a dark, shapeless sludge. The future was unthinkable ... Only the moment mattered." His earlier Dutch years haunt him and he finds a friend, Guus, with whom he can share them. But Guus and he are tragically separated.
Translated by Sam Garrett, this is a novel of extraordinary power and moral beauty, executed with a poet's intricate artistry. Between its opening and closing departures, we proceed according to some deep psychic logic, ever further into a life not well-lived but, even so, strangely exemplary.
Arts & Ents blogs
Dennis Hopper's lost sixties photo album found
Top Gear makes Saudis look liberal, Kirsty Wark tells Independent Bath Literature Festival
Liam Neeson turned down James Bond role because late wife Natasha Richardson said she wouldn't marry him if he took it
Jenny Collier row: Comedy promoter apologises after dropping female comic 'because venue did not want too many women on the bill'
Lena Dunham strips naked for Girls spoof while hosting Saturday Night Live
Britain's top vet sparks controversy with call for ban on slashing animals' throats in 'ritual' slaughters for halal and kosher meat products
If you're horrified by a flame-roasted dog, you should be shocked at a hog roast
Poor 'live like animals' says Boris's privately educated sister after going on 'poverty safari'
Exclusive: Impact of immigrants on British workers ‘negligible’
Vince Cable: Teachers 'know absolutely nothing' about the world of work
Ukraine crisis: Russia pledges to 'retaliate against sanctions' as Ukrainian president says Crimea vote will not be recognised
- 1 International Women's Day 2014: The shocking statistics that show why it is still so important
- 2 Australian man Rod Sommerville reacts to bite from deadly snake by reaching for cold beer
- 3 Teacher shows sex tape featuring herself to pupils during class by mistake
- 4 David Cameron resorts to paying for Facebook fans because not enough people like him
- 5 Steve Irwin’s final words: Cameraman present at death opens up about deadly stingray attack for the first time