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.
Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants
Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards
TV ReviewThe intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron
Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days
Oscar voter speaks outfilm
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Isis burns thousands of books and rare manuscripts from Mosul's libraries
- 2 Scarlett Johansson new band 'already hit with legal complaint' from another The Singles
- 3 Husband and wife die holding hands within hours of each other after 67 years of marriage
- 4 The remarkable archaeological underwater discovery that could open up a new chapter in the study of European and British prehistory
- 5 'Jihadi John': CAGE representative storms off Sky News accusing Kay Burley of Islamophobia
Michael Keaton putting his acceptance speech away was the saddest Oscars 2015 moment
Alien 5: Sigourney Weaver will reprise Ripley role in new movie, says director Neill Blomkamp
Seinfeld is laughing all the way to the bank: TV show generates $3.1bn in repeat fees since final episode
Wolf Hall finale, review: Simply brilliant TV
All fiction follows one of six basic storylines, according to new research
Oscars 2015: Birdman beats Boyhood as Eddie Redmayne and Patricia Arquette win big - as it happened
New theory could prove how life began and disprove God
Half of Ukip voters say they are prejudiced against people of other races
'Cash for access' scandal: Sir Malcolm Rifkind says 'unrealistic' for MPs to live on £67,000 salary
Aqsa Mahmood branded a 'disgrace' by her parents after claims she recruited three UK girls flying to Middle East
This is what it's like to be dead, according to a guy who died for a bit