Man on the Move, By Otto de Kat, trs Sam Garrett

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The Independent Culture

This is a short, thoughtful novel, the first 40 pages of which wind the spring which powers the rest. We learn of Rob, a 22-year-old Dutchman who emigrates in 1935. The next 10 years of his life are glimpsed in a quick-fire series of broken pictures: parting from his family, a brief stint in the diamond mines of Johannesburg, and his time working on the Burma Railway as a prisoner of war in Thailand.

Otto de Kat sketches this tumultuous decade lightly by concentrating on individual moments, many of which revolve around Guus, a fellow Dutch prisoner of war. After the war ends, the book changes tack as we follow Rob's restless struggle to make peace with his choices.

The translation is poetic and, despite a wandering soul at the centre of the narrative, the story is beautifully bound by the memory of Guus. The fractured, intensely lonely existence of the protagonist is saved from sterility by haunting moments of human interaction. From these relationships, Rob finds a compass that points toward a moving resolution.