This fifth translated novel from the Dutch classical singer-turned-novelist (The Kreutzer Sonata, 2005, etc.) offers a moving dramatization of a historical catastrophe which bears disturbing resemblances to recent global occurrences.
In the winter of 1953, hurricane-driven flood waters rushing in from the North Sea destroyed dikes and obliterated an entire province in the southwestern Netherlands—a territory which “lay embedded between two arms of the sea that did what arms usually do: they move.” De Moor observes this disaster from the juxtaposed viewpoints of two sisters—young wife and mother Lidy and her virginal younger sibling Armanda. When Armanda offers to take Lidy’s two-year-old daughter Nadja to a party, in exchange for Lidy’s appearance at a similar event held for Armanda’s godchild—for the sisters resemble each other so closely, few people can tell them apart—they also exchange destinies. Lidy travels to the imminently endangered seaside town of Zierkezee, while Armanda becomes companion for the day to Nadja and her father (and Lidy’s husband) Sjoerd. De Moor’s laconic, precisely descriptive prose (memorably captured in Janeway’s pristine translation) pinpoints numerous indications of what is to come (e.g., the curious phenomenon of hares running alongside cars on a well-traveled highway) and what later occurs (e.g., the sighting of “a farmhouse that…no longer stood in the middle of fields or meadows but in an ocean current”). As Lidy’s ordeal, presented in piecemeal fragments of hard-won momentary stays against extinction, approaches its end, Armanda, Sjoerd and Nadja—both during the storm and for years afterward—grasp at whatever forms of enduring and persevering rise up before them. And de Moor brings this harrowing story to a stunning climax, as Armanda, an old woman kept alive by little more than her memories, in effect dreams a long conversation with the beloved sister whose life she has inadvertently appropriated and whose sufferings she has grown and learned to share.
It’s hard to resist using the word “symphonic” to describe this exquisitely composed, piercingly moving story. De Moor continues to scale increasingly impressive heights.