Caveby Tim Krabbe
A stunning psychological thriller about friship, drugs, and murder from the author of The Vanishing.
Egon Wagter and Axel van de Graaf met when they were both fourteen and on vacation in Belgium. Axel is fascinating, filled with an amoral energy by which the more prudent, less adventurous Egon is both mesmerized and repelled. Even as a teen, Axel/b>/i>
A stunning psychological thriller about friship, drugs, and murder from the author of The Vanishing.
Egon Wagter and Axel van de Graaf met when they were both fourteen and on vacation in Belgium. Axel is fascinating, filled with an amoral energy by which the more prudent, less adventurous Egon is both mesmerized and repelled. Even as a teen, Axel has a strange power over those around him. He defies authority, seduces women, breaks the law. Axel chooses Egon as a friend, a friendship that somehow ures over time and ends up determining Egon's fate.
During his university studies, Egon frequents Axel's house in Amsterdam, where there is a party every night and women fill the rooms. Though Egon chooses geology over Axel's life of avarice and drug dealing, he remains intrigued by his friend's conviction that the only law that counts is the law he makes himself. Egon believes that Axel is a demonic figure who tempts others only because he knows they want to be tempted. By the time he is in his forties, Egon finds himself divorced and with few professional prospects. He turns for help to Axel, who sends him to Ratanakiri, a fictional country in Southeast Asia. Axel gives Egon a suitcase to deliver-and Egon never returns.
Utterly compelling and resonant, The Cave is an unforgettable story of betrayal in the spirit of Tim Krabbé's remarkable first novel, The Vanishing.
New York Times Book Review
- Farrar, Straus and Giroux
- Publication date:
- Edition description:
- First Edition
- Product dimensions:
- 5.40(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.50(d)
Read an Excerpt
To Bring a Bag to Ratanak
* * *
After about a kilometer, as he'd been told, he saw it. A wide concrete building five stories high, back off the road at the airport's edge. In front of it was the parking lot. A few cars stood glistening in the sun. A fence separated the lot from a field that ran right up to the road, with low bushes, trash, the remains of crumbled walls and, in the middle, a lone, crooked palm.
Above the entrance to the building were words written in indecipherable curls, but he knew what they must say: BUILDING OF FRIENDSHIP BETWEEN RATANAKIRI AND VIETNAM.
At eleven he had to be at that lot.
The fear rushed in his blood like an infatuation.
Suddenly, the minibus taking Egon and a few other guests to the Holiday Inn drove into Ratanak: a swirling, honking sea of white shirts, scooters, bicycles, cycle-rickshaws, minibuses, delivery trucks, filling the boulevards from curb to curb. Along both sides were smaller eddies of ghost-drivers who hadn't dared to cross to their own halves. Everything was trying to honk everything else aside, and Egon's van, honking incessantly itself, swung through it all, thumping over gaping holes in the pavement, missing oncoming traffic by a hair. Everything was carrying something: baskets, madcap stacks of wood, clusters of live chickens with legs lashed to handlebars. In cycle-rickshaws were ladies and their daughters in pretty blouses; in a chair on a handcart was a silent old woman. In a flash, Egon saw a rat in themiddle of the road, immobilized, its haunches already crushed, waiting with terrified eyes for the wheel that would put a finish to it. A few of Egon's fellow passengers, including the man in the white hat whom Egon had suspected of being his convoy ever since that morning in Bangkok, were taking pictures. He should be doing that too, but the parking lot paralyzed him.
Along the sidewalks were little stands, most of them with signs in curly letters, but there were also a few he could read, for HOT TOCS and POKKA, THE NUMER ONE DRINK IN RATANAKIRI. Laughing boys played at pool tables, and everywhere men were squatting in puddles of oil, amid wheels, exhaust pipes, gears, and gas tanks, like the remains of a routed, butchered army of scooters. The side streets were open garbage dumps, with pigs, chickens, naked children, women with yokes. And everywhere, covering entire sides of buildings, was the portrait of General Sophal, Worker Number One, lord and master of Ratanakiri. Always the same portrait: Sophal, twenty years younger than he was, strict and benevolent, a grave god, a mild murderer in a sparkling white-and-green uniform set against a fiery red backgroundthe national colors. The portraits were the only thing immaculate about Ratanak; they were probably touched up as often as Sophal's uniforms went to the cleaners.
At a square, the minibus got caught in traffic, right across from a huge billboard showing a crudely drawn syringe with a thick red cross through it.
"Ratanak only three traffic lights!" the driver laughed. "All kaput! Finish!" But he tore loose and they were off again, carried along on all the insane off-and-moving, this flow of irrepressible, buoyant life. And in the midst of it, Egon and his bag, like a deadly virus in an exuberant bloodstream.
He wondered whether the other one was already in Ratanak.
His room on the sixth floor of the Holiday Inn looked out over the Tonlé Kong, the Great River, calm and gleaming, a kilometer wide at this point. Here and there were clusters of little boats, hundreds of them, with thatched roofs like floating Gypsy caravans. When he opened the door to the balcony, the heat, which he'd forgotten about for a moment, rolled over him like a drop of amber that would hold him forever. He backed inside and closed the door.
On a low table at the window lay a folder with girls' faces and telephone numbers. The clock radio beside his bed said it was a quarter past one. Less than ten hours left.
Suddenly Egon was crying, although he caught hold of himself after the first sob, so he wasn't sure it could really be called crying. He sat down on the edge of the bed. "Aaah! Aaah!" he said. Something pressed against his chest, again and again, like an airbag, blow after blow. He rocked his upper body back and forth, looking at the suitcase he'd put on a chair.
Damn it, I'm hyperventilating like some old woman, he thought, what were the things that made me cry? There were three.
He undressed and went into the bathroom. Under the shower he tried to recall what those three things were. The humiliation of trying to make money this way, which was worse than having no money at all. The sense of being lost, here in a city full of creatures with whom you couldn't exchange a syllable. The relief of having made it through customshe'd almost fainted when the nod came for him to move on with his suitcase. The horror at having made it through customs. They knew everything, as though the warning on the immigration card, RATANAKIRI20 GRAMSDEATH, had been stamped on his forehead. They had let him go on his way, the man in the white hat kept an eye on him, and at eleven they grabbed him, along with the other one. The unshakable feeling that this was the last day of his life. The river flowing there, not knowing a thing about him. That he'd let a bastard like Axel van de Graaf dictate his life.
He could give everything as a reason.
He was further from everything than ever.
There were no taxis in Ratanak, the girl at the desk said. If he wanted to go somewhere he could take the hotel shuttle bus. He'd just missed it; the next one would leave in forty-five minutes. If he didn't want to wait he'd have to walk, or take a scooter-taxi.
"But I wouldn't recommend it, not if you value your life."
"I don't value my life," he said.
His shoes hurt, his head hurt, his mouth was dry as he crossed the dusty plain between the hotel and the Presidential Palace. It was like walking through a desert. He'd have to buy a hat.
In the middle of the plain was a fountain with people around it. A wedding party, he saw when he got closer, with bright parasols; a young bride in a white gown with train, a groom in white tails, both trimmed with red ribbons and rosettes, were posing at the fountain's edge, surrounded by laughing family members clicking cameras. Egon took a picture, too, and the couple gave him a shy, proud smile. The fountain was dry.
Exhausted, his whole body hurting, he reached the palace. Behind the fence was an enormous portrait of Sophal. There were a few tourists. You could visit the palace, and he would, but first he had to get a car. He took a few pictures, then crossed to the streets on the other side of the palace grounds. The apartment buildings there were blackened, neglected to the point of collapse, the verandas spilling over with upturned tables and loose sheets of corrugated iron; brown stripes ran down the walls, as though they too served as drainsbut the shadow they threw was divine. He'd wondered how he would recognize the scooter-taxis, but they recognized him; two, three riders were already stopping in front of him. He shooed them away; he had to drink something first.
Along a thoroughfare he found a kind of café, a shop with a few tables and chairs on the sidewalk, beneath a corrugated iron awning. From inside came the sounds of a television set, the battle cries of little children murdering each other at a video game. He drank three beers, one after the other.
Just as it occurred to him that he hadn't seen the man in the white hat for a while, he noticed another café-like establishment across the street, find a Western woman sitting under the awning there, alone, just like him. The successor to the man in the white hat? Nonsense; if anyone was keeping an eye on him, it would be a Ratanakirian. It was actually comforting to see that woman there; it meant he wasn't completely alone after all.
Meet the Author
Tim Krabbe is the author of The Vanishing which was made into an award-winning film. The Cave was a bestseller in The Netherlands. He lives in Amsterdam.
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