In Babylon

In Babylon

by Marcel Moring

First published in Holland to international critical acclaim, In Babylon is a story of storytelling — a novel of universal, inescapable power. When Nathan Hollander and his niece Sophie find themselves trapped by snow in a house in the mountains, Nathan passes the time by recounting their family history. In this story within the story, Nathan's tale

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First published in Holland to international critical acclaim, In Babylon is a story of storytelling — a novel of universal, inescapable power. When Nathan Hollander and his niece Sophie find themselves trapped by snow in a house in the mountains, Nathan passes the time by recounting their family history. In this story within the story, Nathan's tale spans generations of a Jewish family as it wanders the globe: from Magnus, who began a twenty-one-year walk from Poland to Holland in 1648, to the itinerant clockmakers who followed him, to Manhattan's Project. Here are comic embarrassments, mystical puzzles, and grand adventure rolled together. Gloriously rich, quirky, and endlessly inventive, Marcel Möring's novel is epic on a very human scale.

Editorial Reviews

Barnes & Noble Guide to New Fiction
First published in Holland in 1997, this "compulsively readable" and "erudite" epic novel weaves a very human story about man's constant drive from the Old World to the New - and his desire, despite everything, for home and homeland. "Fascinating, complex, and challenging - Moring is an extraordinarily gifted writer," and "the rightful heir to Garcia Marquez." But some reviewers "needed Cliff Notes" to understand this one.
Boston Globe
Ingenious storytelling..resonant..entertaining...Marcel Moring and his protaganist Nathan are such skillful and prolific storytellers that fact, fiction, and fairy tale blur together, pleasurably...(a splendidly accomplished novel.
Die Welt
With this novel, Moring has finally joined the ranks of the most important European writers of his generation.
Ambitious... In Babylon opens with the epithet: �Trees have roots. Jew have legs.� It jumps all over four centuries of those legs journeying along �the roads� that, as Magnus says, �are all the same and lead to each other�. It is Marcel Moring's achievement that he has rendered this profusion of trails from the Old to the New World so diverse, so divergent and so divinely — or diabolically — funny.
NRC Handel
Mysterious, magical and full of suspense, one of the mostsingular and extraordinary reading experiences I have ever had.
Times Literary Supplement
A moving and convincing testimony to the continuing tension between the desire for assimilation and the awareness of seperateness...Marcel Moring is beyond doubt one of the most imaginative and perceptive novelists writing today.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The arc of this grand, engrossing novel spans four centuries and two continents. Trapped by "the winter to end all winters" in an isolated house in the country, Nathan Hollander, a 60-year-old Dutch fairy-tale writer, and his niece, Nina, the last of the Hollanders, delve deep into their family history. In order to claim the house, left to him by his uncle Herman, a famed sociologist who died in the arms of a prostitute, Nathan was required to compose a biography of the dedeased; now that the project is nearly complete, Nathan has "allowed" himself to revisit the home where he spent much of his youth. After arriving in a ferocious snowstorm, Nathan and Nina must combat not only the fierce cold but also the mysterious work of some hostile force. To relieve the grimness of their plight, Nathan shares Herman's biography--which he describes as "more of a family chronicle"--with Nina, so she can learn the history of the clan from which she was long estranged. As the two uncover the house's mysteries, Nina learns of Chaim and Magnus, ancestral ghosts who have visited Nathan for 50 years; of the family profession: clock making; of their migration from Poland to Holland in the 17th century, where they took on their adopted country's name; of their flight to America during WWII and their return to Holland; of Nathan's brother and Nina's father, Zeno, a "20th-century prophet" who disappeared 30 years earlier. Moring's prose is fluid and erudite, and the transitions between the many eras masterfully achieved; only occasionally does the narrative linger too long in the past or a philosophical discussion (sometimes related via a fairy tale) impede the flow of the text. As historically instructive as it is suspenseful, this is an impressive, accomplished tale of a perennially uprooted family and its last remaining members seeking their home in an inhospitable world. (Apr.) FYI: M ring is a bestseller in the Netherlands, where this book was first published in 1997. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Library Journal - Library Journal
The death (by call girl) of 80-year-old scholar Herman Hollander brings together Nathan Hollander and his niece Nina to muse upon the family's tangled history as clockmakers and eventually refugees of 1940s Eastern Europe. Not your traditional "making it in America" story, this ambitious novel refracts its themes of displacement and regret through the characters of Herman and his brother Emmanuel, witnesses to the development of the atomic bomb, and Zeno, a child prodigy turned underground cult leader. Also thrown into the mix are portraits of the Hollanders' family life, courtships, and ancestral visitations, bookended by a freak snowstorm confining Nathan and Nina to Uncle Herman's mansion and setting these tales in motion. M ring's story wears its "epic" garments lightly, with many appealing personalities and much humorous dialog nicely captured through Knecht's translation, but there's too much territory to be covered, and the reader will be left wondering how exactly all of this ties together. An imperfect but amiable enough novel that was a great success in the author's native Holland. For larger libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 12/99.]--Marc A. Kloszewski, Indiana Free Lib., PA Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\

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Product Details

Rowohlt Taschenbuch Verlag GmbH
Edition description:
German Edition

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Chapter One


The last time I ever saw Uncle Herman, he was lying on a king-size bed in the finest room at the Hotel Memphis, in the company of six people: the hotel manager, a doctor, two police officers with crackling walkie-talkies, a girl who couldn't have been more than eighteen, and me. The manager conferred with the policemen about how the matter might be settled as discreetly as possible, the doctor stood at the foot of the bed regarding my uncle with a look of mild disgust, and I did nothing. It was just past midnight and Herman lay stretched out, his white body sinewy and taut, on that crumpled white catafalque. He was naked and dead.

He had sent up for a woman. She had arrived, and less than an hour later his life was over. When I got there the young hooker, a small blond thing with crimped hair and childishly painted lips, sat hunched in one of the two white leather chairs next to the ubiquitous hotel writing table. She stared at the carpet, mumbling softly. Uncle Herman lay on his back on the big bed, his pubic hair still glistening with ... all right, with the juices of love, a condom rolled halfway down his wrinkled sex like a misplaced clown's nose. His pale, old man's body, the tanned face with the shock of grey hair and the large, slightly hooked nose evoked the image of a warrior fallen in battle and laid in state, here, on this dishevelled altar.

I stood in that room and thought of what Zeno, with a touch of bitterness in his voice, had once said, long ago, that you could plot family histories on a graph, as a line that rippled up and down, up and down, up and down; people madetheir fortune, their offspring benefited from that fortune, the third generation squandered it all, and the family returned to the bottom of the curve and began working its way back up. An endless cycle of profit and loss, wealth and poverty, rise and fall. Except for the history of our family, Zeno had said, that was a whole other thing. Our family history could best be compared to a railway timetable: one person left, and while he was on his way, another returned, and while he was busy arriving, others were setting out on a new journey. 'Normal families stay in the same place for centuries,' said Zeno. 'If they do ever leave it's a major historical event. In our family it would be a historical event if, even after just half a generation, we associated suitcases with a holiday instead of a new life.'

'Right,' said the doctor, who probably wasn't much younger than the victim himself 'Let's get to work.' He placed his bag on the writing table, opened it, stuck his hand in the gaping leather mouth, and pulled out a spectacle case. The glasses gave him an air of efficiency, like a tailor about to pin up a hem. He went to the bed, moved the body, over so he could sit down, and began poking and prodding. Then, peering into the dead man's clouded eyes, he asked what had happened. I turned to the girl, who was still hunched over in her chair. She seemed to sense my gaze, and lifted her head. She looked extremely unhappy. 'The doctor would like to know whether you noticed anything unusual.' She shook her head. 'Well?' said the doctor. 'Nothing,' I said. 'She didn't notice a thing.' The doctor frowned. 'Are you saying he just popped off?' I looked back down at the floor. She shrugged. Sighing, the doctor got to his feet and took off his spectacles. His eyes travelled around the room. Then he went up to the girl. He stood before her and, jabbing the air with his glasses, said, 'What were you doing to him?' The girl clapped her hand to her mouth and ran out the door. We heard her in the bathroom, quietly retching.

It was around one in the morning by the time the four of us emerged outside, in the moonlit doorway of the hotel. A hearse glided soundlessly by. The wind rustled the tall oaks around the patio, there was faint music in the distance. The doctor and the hotel manager reminisced about a man who had once been found tied to the bedposts, the girl and I watched the police car as it turned onto the road in a cloud of flying gravel. The doctor and the manager said goodbye and we were left behind. We stood outside the door listening to the music. It sounded like Ives.

'I think he would have enjoyed dying that way,' I said. 'In a hotel, with a young woman at his side.'

She started retching again.

I stared into the half-darkness of the city and thought, for the first time in years, about the future, which had once lain before me and now, now that I was old and worn, lay behind me.

'He was a traveller,' I said.

The girl turned to me and opened her mouth. The heavy lipstick was smeared along one cheek, which made her whole face look lopsided. She breathed out quick, small puffs of steam and shivered in her baseball jacket.

'We were all travellers,' I said.

She turned away and looked at the empty street and the light that hung yellow and still beneath the tall trees. I saw her glance at me from the comer of her eyes, hurried, fearful, like someone who has found herself with an unpredictable psychopath and doesn't know which would be better: to stay or leave, respond or ignore.

There was a pale blue haze around the moon. A gentle breeze rustled the treetops. As if Uncle Herman's soul had dissolved in the night, I thought, and now, the final matters settled, the remains' of his life carried off, had disappeared in a last contented sigh. On its way, forever.

And at that very moment, there, outside the hotel where Uncle Herman ... had lost his life, at that moment I saw myself for the first time in maybe twenty years, and the image that loomed up out of the labyrinth of my life was that of a face in the crowd, a man nobody knows, yet is there nonetheless, an eyewitness, a stowaway in time.

In Babylon. Copyright � by Marcel Moring. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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