Food is a symbol for emotional hunger in Dutch writer de Winter’s first novel to be translated into English.
Appointed ambassador to Prague in 1989, Dutch diplomat Felix Hoffman has reached his career goal. Unfortunately, Hoffman’s new position can't compensate for his sense that he is an outsider and a failure. His marriage to the beautiful, scholarly Marian is a cold shell since the death of their twin daughters, Esther of cancer as a young child, and Miriam of a heroin overdose in her 20s. In addition, as a Jewish survivor of the Holocaust, he harbors traumatic memories: His parents, who sent him to hide on a pig farm, perished in a concentration camp. Acknowledging that he is “a sleepless alcoholic with chronic hunger who had forfeited his right to exist long ago,” he attempts to tamp down his misery with food binges. When he discovers Spinoza's Treatise on the Correction of the Understanding and on the Way in Which It May Be Directed Towards a True Knowledge of Things, Hoffman devours the philosopher's advice on supreme happiness with the same avidity he applies to tasty duck livers and fine wines, but his own life enters an increasingly rapid spiral of desperation, degradation and despair. During an affair with beautiful Czech journalist Irena Nová (she is a double agent also known as Carla), Hoffman is enticed to share state secrets, destroying his career in the process. Hoffman's unrelenting misery is balanced by other characters drawn together by a web of international intrigue: Freddy Mancini, a hapless American tourist with a food obsession that outdoes Hoffman's, acts as the diplomat's low-brow doppelgänger, while John Marks, a CIA operative with connections to Carla, had once used Hoffman's wife as counteragent and lover. The pre–Velvet Revolution Czech setting is an effective backdrop for 20th-century angst and alienation. In our post-9/11 era, it proves just as gripping.
Hopefully the first of many works in English from this talented novelist.