Dutch novelist Möring (The Dream Room, 2002, etc.) pulls out all the stops in this rich, complex, obscure and polyphonic narrative of a descent into the soul.
The pilgrim is Jacob Noah, who hid for the last three years of World War II. When he emerges, he finds his parents and brother gone and little meaning in his life. He returns to his father’s shoemaking shop in the village of Assen in the Netherlands, marries a farmer’s daughter and starts a family, but he remains haunted by his past and his inability to escape his Jewish identity. He succeeds beyond his expectations in becoming rich, yet feels empty and unfulfilled. After a car accident almost takes Jacob’s life, he finds himself in the strange hands of a peddler called “The Jew of Assen,” an embodiment of death who becomes a Virgil of sorts. (The book echoes Dante’s Inferno, Homer, Greek mythology, Miles Davis and more.) When the peddler takes Jacob into his past and into his soul, it becomes clear that the shoemaker is no shrinking violet. When revisiting a particularly egregious act of anti-Semitism, Jacob puts his guide on the defensive by exclaiming, “So? Where were you? Were you a ghost in the shadows? Were you one of the people who stood laughing and watching along the side of the road?... Where were you?” At the end of the novel Jacob moves toward feeling at home in the here and now: In a cemetery called Beth Olam, Hebrew for “the house of eternity,” he remembers that olam also means world and thinks, “House of the world…he liked the sound of it.” Möring loves to experiment wildly with form, transforming parts of his narrative into cartoons, embracing digressions in enormous parentheses and using graphics to depict fireworks onomatopoetically.
Not for the faint of heart.