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Amuse-Bouche, By Arnon Grunberg

Reviewed,Boyd Tonkin
Friday 20 March 2009 01:00 GMT

Deadpan, offbeat, quirkily comic but steeped in loneliness, these early stories and sketches by the leading Dutch writer (translated by Lisa Friedman and Ron de Klerk) add up to a portrait of the artist as a young vagabond and freeloader.

Some draw in their raw and tender humour on Grunberg's Jewish family background in Amsterdam, peopled with relatives who – like many of these vulnerable oddballs – live "on the periphery of the human race".

Later the wannabe author, who falls dramatically in love with a pizza-parlour waitress but becomes known to staff as the "pimpled pesto eater", knocks around New York: a footloose migrant among so many others.

From the ex-porn star who boasts of being "the richest man in Las Vegas" to film student Khaled, "related to the king of Jordan", his characters – like the narrator – feed off depleting dreams.

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