This is the first person narrative of Maarten, a seventy-one year old man who is experiencing a rapidly progressive loss of intellectual function. It is a harrowing yet poetic account of mental deterioration, revealed in an on-going chronicle of daily life and disjointed memories. The reader experiences what Maarten experiences, not only through descriptions of what life is like, but through the sequencing of thoughts and actions.

At first Maarten is just aware of being uneasy and anxious, "this feeling of being absent while being fully conscious" and he knows, from the comments of his wife, that he must be behaving absent-mindedly. His hold on familiar certainties becomes shaky--he’s not sure of how the rooms in his house are arranged. His wife, Vera, is his anchor and he realizes that his behavior has become deeply disturbing to her, as well as incomprehensible to himself. As Maarten becomes increasingly forgetful and unable to function, Vera is alternately worried, exasperated, and profoundly understanding.

Finally, Maarten is institutionalized--his thoughts disintegrate--yet we know from his observations of "the utterly moronic community" that he still has some awareness of what is happening. Although he no longer recognizes his wife, he listens to "a woman" whisper that "the spring is almost beginning . . . ."


This is a remarkable novel, both for the power of its narrative technique, and for the existential and human issues that it raises. How do we make sense of the world? What is a life when recognition and memory are lost?

Also important is the sensitive depiction of marriage and aging: the long and lasting love of an elderly couple who have already endured much together (surviving World War II in Holland, and then the cultural dislocation of emigrating to the United States), how that love is challenged yet survives when one spouse is impaired; what it means to be parent to adult children; what it means to be retired from the world of work; how it is possible to both accept and deny the aging process.


Author’s copyright,1984. Translated by Adrienne Dixon.


David R. Godine

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