Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland
is at its heart the first-person story of a man, Hans van den Broeck, and love: love for his family, love for his homeland, and love for a sport (cricket) and the friends that came with it.
When I say at its heart, I’m choosing my words carefully. Netherland
is complicated, with odd charactersJewish mobsters, a Turkish angel (yes, an angel), a team of gun-toting Kittitian cricket playerswho pop in and out of Hans’s retellings of childhood experiences, first dates, and cricket matches. There’s quite a lot going on in this tale, and it’s a bit of a job to keep track of the passage of time, the locations of the various characters and who’s contributing what to the story.
, Louis de Bernieres’s A Partisan’s Daughter
is also a first-person story of a man and love: love for a mysterious woman who is not his wife and is perhaps a prostitute.
In alternating chapters, Chris, an aging British pharmaceutical salesman, and Roza, an Eastern European 30-something, tell the story of their now long-past courtship. The story is simple: Much of it revolves around Roza’s stories of her experiences growing up in Yugoslavia, though as time progresses it becomes clear that Roza is not the most trustworthy reporter.
In certain circles these days it is in fashion to admire stories whose main characters make their rounds in hard-to-believe worlds. They build entire apartment houses just to force the occupants to do what they want, they find their needle-in-a-haystack birth-father living just across town, orlike Hansthey bump heads with the mob and live to, um, NOT tell their wives about it. It’s that disconnect, not the existence of these tales themselves, that makes these books tough for me to read: The people in these books almost invariably never realize how special they are, nor do their friends and relatives ever bother to point it out to them. Netherland
is a book of this sort. It’s well-written and entertaining, but it requires a suspension of disbelief that is just beyond me.
So Partisan’s Daughter
is going to the next round. Its characters are believable as real people: When Chris thinks he’s caught Roza in a falsehood, when he’s confused about something she’s said, or when she can’t decide how to answer a question he’s posed, they tell the reader of their suspicions. The simpler plot and characters let the lovely writing and story shine through. And that makes all the difference.
A Partisan’s Daughter by Louis de Bernières