Netherland

Netherland

by Joseph O'Neill

Paperback(Reprint)

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307388773
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 05/07/2009
Series: Vintage Contemporaries Series
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 553,918
Product dimensions: 5.18(w) x 7.95(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Joseph O’Neill was born in Cork, Ireland, in 1964 and grew up in Mozambique, South Africa, Iran, Turkey, and Holland. His previous works include the novels This Is the Life and The Breezes and the nonfiction book Blood-Dark Track, a family history centered on the mysterious imprisonment of both his grandfathers during World War II, which was a New York Times Notable Book. He writes regularly for The Atlantic Monthly. He lives with his family in New York City.

Read an Excerpt

The afternoon before i left London for New York—Rachel had flown out six weeks previously—I was in my cubicle at work, boxing up my possessions, when a senior vice-president at the bank, an Englishman in his fifties, came to wish me well. I was surprised; he worked in another part of the building and in another department, and we were known to each other only by sight. Nevertheless, he asked me in detail about where I intended to live (“Watts? Which block on Watts?”) and reminisced for several minutes about his loft on Wooster Street and his outings to the “original” Dean & DeLuca. He was doing nothing to hide his envy.

“We won’t be gone for very long,” I said, playing down my good fortune. That was, in fact, the plan, conceived by my wife: to drop in on New York City for a year or three and then come back.

“You say that now,” he said. “But New York’s a very hard place to leave. And once you do leave . . .” The S.V.P., smiling, said, “I still miss it, and I left twelve years ago.”

It was my turn to smile—in part out of embarrassment, because he’d spoken with an American openness. “Well, we’ll see,” I said.

“Yes,” he said. “You will.”

His sureness irritated me, though principally he was pitiable—like one of those Petersburgians of yesteryear whose duties have washed him up on the wrong side of the Urals.

But it turns out he was right, in a way. Now that I, too, have left that city, I find it hard to rid myself of the feeling that life carries a taint of aftermath. This last-mentioned word, somebody once told me, refers literally to a second mowing of grass in the same season. You might say, if you’re the type prone to general observations, that New York City insists on memory’s repetitive mower—on the sort of purposeful postmortem that has the effect, so one is told and forlornly hopes, of cutting the grassy past to manageable proportions. For it keeps growing back, of course. None of this means that I wish I were back there now; and naturally I’d like to believe that my own retrospection is in some way more important than the old S.V.P.’s, which, when I was exposed to it, seemed to amount to not much more than a cheap longing. But there’s no such thing as a cheap longing, I’m tempted to conclude these days, not even if you’re sobbing over a cracked fingernail. Who knows what happened to that fellow over there? Who knows what lay behind his story about shopping for balsamic vinegar? He made it sound like an elixir, the poor bastard.

At any rate, for the first two years or so of my return to England, I did my best to look away from New York—where, after all, I’d been unhappy for the first time in my life. I didn’t go back there in person, and I didn’t wonder very often about what had become of a man named Chuck Ramkissoon, who’d been a friend during my final East Coast summer and had since, in the way of these things, become a transitory figure. Then, one evening in the spring of this year, 2006, Rachel and I are at home, in Highbury. She is absorbed by a story in the newspaper. I have already read it. It concerns a group of tribespeople that has emerged from the Amazon forest in Colombia. They are reportedly tired of the hard jungle life, although it’s noted they still like nothing better than to eat monkey, grilled and then boiled. A disturbing photograph of a boy gnawing at a blackened little skull illustrates this fact. The tribespeople have no idea of the existence of a host country named Colombia, and no idea, more hazardously, of diseases like the common cold or influenza, against which they have no natural defenses.

“Hello,” Rachel says, “your tribe has come to light.”

I’m still smiling when I answer the ringing phone. A New York Times reporter asks for Mr. van den Broek.

The reporter says, “This is about Kham, ah, Khamraj Ramkissoon . . . ?”

“Chuck,” I say, sitting down at the kitchen table. “It’s Chuck Ramkissoon.”

She tells me that Chuck’s “remains” have been found in the Gowanus Canal. There were handcuffs around his wrists and evidently he was the victim of a murder.

I don’t say anything. It seems to me this woman has told an obvious lie and that if I think about it long enough a rebuttal will come to me.

Her voice says, “Did you know him well?” When I don’t answer, she says, “It says somewhere you were his business partner.”

“That’s not accurate,” I say.

“But you were in business together, right? That’s what my note says.”

“No,” I say. “You’ve been misinformed. He was just a friend.”

She says, “Oh—OK.” There is a tapping of a keyboard and a hiatus.

“So—is there anything you can tell me about his milieu?”

“His milieu?” I say, startled into correcting her mooing pronunciation.

“Well, you know—who he hung out with, what kind of trouble he might have gotten himself into, any shady characters . . .” She adds with a faint laugh, “It is kind of unusual, what happened.”

I realize that I’m upset, even angry.

“Yes,” I finally say. “You have quite a story on your hands.”

The next day a small piece runs in the Metro section. It has been established that Chuck Ramkissoon’s body lay in the water by the Home Depot building for over two years, among crabs and car tires and shopping carts, until a so-called urban diver made a “macabre discovery” while filming a school of striped bass. Over the next week there is a trickle of follow-up items, none of them informative. But apparently it is interesting to readers, and reassuring to certain traditionalists, that the Gowanus Canal can still turn up a murder victim. There’s death in the old girl yet, as one commentator wittily puts it.

The night we receive the news, Rachel, in bed next to me, asks, “So who’s this man?” When I don’t immediately answer, she puts down her book.

“Oh,” I say, “I’m sure I’ve told you about him. A cricket guy I used to know. A guy from Brooklyn.”

She repeats after me, “Chuck Ramkissoon?”

Her voice contains an amused note I don’t like. I roll away onto one shoulder and close my eyes. “Yes,” I say. “Chuck Ramkissoon.”



Chuck and I met for the first time in August 2002. I was playing cricket at Randolph Walker Park, in Staten Island, and Chuck was present as one of the two independent umpires who gave their services in return for a fifty-dollar honorarium. The day was thick as a jelly, with a hot, glassy atmosphere and no wind, not even a breeze from the Kill of Kull, which flows less than two hundred yards from Walker Park and separates Staten Island from New Jersey. Far away, in the south, was the mumbling of thunder. It was the kind of barbarously sticky American afternoon that made me yearn for the shadows cast by scooting summer clouds in northern Europe, yearn even for those days when you play cricket wearing two sweaters under a cold sky patched here and there by a blue tatter—enough to make a sailor’s pants, as my mother used to say.

By the standards I brought to it, Walker Park was a very poor place for cricket. The playing area was, and I am sure still is, half the size of a regulation cricket field. The outfield is uneven and always overgrown, even when cut (once, chasing a ball, I nearly tripped over a hidden and, to cricketers, ominous duck), and whereas proper cricket, as some might call it, is played on a grass wicket, the pitch at Walker Park is made of clay, not turf, and must be covered with coconut matting; moreover the clay is pale sandy baseball clay, not red cricket clay, and its bounce cannot be counted on to stay true for long; and to the extent that it is true, it lacks variety and complexity. (Wickets consisting of earth and grass are rich with possibility: only they can fully challenge and reward a bowler’s repertoire of cutters and spinners and bouncers and seamers, and only these, in turn, can bring out and fully test a batsman’s repertoire of defensive and attacking strokes, not to mention his mental powers.) There is another problem. Large trees—pin oaks, red oaks, sweetgums, and American linden trees—clutter the fringes of Walker Park. Any part of these trees, even the smallest hanging leaf, must be treated as part of the boundary, and this brings randomness into the game. Often a ball will roll between the tree trunks, and the fielder running after it will partially disappear, so that when he reemerges, ball in hand, a shouting match will start up about exactly what happened.

By local standards, however, Walker Park is an attractive venue. Tennis courts said to be the oldest in the United States neighbor the cricket field, and the park itself is surrounded on all sides by Victorian houses with elaborately planted gardens. For as long as anyone can remember, the local residents have tolerated the occasional crash of a cricket ball, arriving like a gigantic meteoritic cranberry, into their flowering shrubbery. Staten Island Cricket Club was founded in 1872, and its teams have played on this little green every summer for over a hundred years. Walker Park was owned by the club until the 1920s. Nowadays the land and its clubhouse—a neo-Tudor brick structure dating back to the 1930s, its precursor having been destroyed by fire—are the property of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. In my time, a parks department employee, a phantom-like individual who was never seen, reportedly lived in the attic. The main room was rented out to a nursery school, and only the basement and the beaten-up locker room were routinely made available to cricketers. Nevertheless, no other New York cricket club enjoys such amenities or such a glorious history: Donald Bradman and Garry Sobers, the greatest cricketers of all time, have played at Walker Park. The old ground is also fortunate in its tranquillity. Other cricketing venues, places such as Idlewild Park and Marine Park and Monroe Cohen Ballfield, lie directly beneath the skyways to JFK. Elsewhere, for example Seaview Park (which of course has no view of a sea), in Canarsie, the setting is marred not only by screeching aircraft but also by the inexhaustible roar of the Belt Parkway, the loop of asphalt that separates much of south Brooklyn from salt water.

What all these recreational areas have in common are rank outfields that largely undermine the art of batting, which is directed at hitting the ball along the ground with that elegant variety of strokes a skillful batsman will have spent years trying to master and preserve: the glance, the hook, the cut, the sweep, the cover drive, the pull, and all those other offspring of technique conceived to send the cricket ball rolling and rolling, as if by magic, to the far-off edge of the playing field. Play such orthodox shots in New York and the ball will more than likely halt in the tangled, weedy ground cover: grass as I understand it, a fragrant plant wondrously suited for athletic pastimes, flourishes with difficulty; and if something green and grasslike does grow, it is never cut down as cricket requires. Consequently, in breach of the first rule of batting, the batsman is forced to smash the ball into the air—to go deep, as it’s said, borrowing the baseball term; and batting is turned into a gamble. As a result, fielding is distorted, too, since the fielders are quickly removed from their infield positions—point, extra cover, midwicket, and the others—to distant stations on the boundary, where they listlessly linger. It’s as if baseball were a game about home runs rather than base hits, and its basemen were relocated to spots deep in the outfield. This degenerate version of the sport—bush cricket, as Chuck more than once dismissed it—inflicts an injury that is aesthetic as much as anything: the American adaptation is devoid of the beauty of cricket played on a lawn of appropriate dimensions, where the white-clad ring of infielders, swanning figures on the vast oval, again and again converge in unison toward the batsman and again and again scatter back to their starting points, a repetition of pulmonary rhythm, as if the field breathed through its luminous visitors.


From the Hardcover edition.

Reading Group Guide

“Stunning . . . with echoes of The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald's masterpiece . . . a resonant meditation on the American Dream.”
—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

The introduction, questions, and suggestions for further reading that follow are designed to enliven your group's discussion of Joseph O'Neill's Netherland.

1. Describe the structure of Netherland. Why does the author open with Hans moving to New York City and then quickly jump into the future with Chuck's death and then jump back? Do you think these flashbacks and foward leaps relate to the narrative arc of the story? Is this simply how we tell stories? When you tell a story do you tell it chronologically? Why?

2. Childhood often slips into the story-that of both Hans and Chuck. Early on in the novel, Hans mentions that he doesn't connect to himself as a child ("I, however, seem given to self-estrangement" [p. 49]), then proceeds to produce numerous memories of his childhood and of his mother. How is this reconnecting with his heritage and his past important to the story? How is Chuck often the catalyst for these memories?

3. Chuck is more connected to his heritage than Hans. He socializes with others from the West Indies; he's married to a woman from his birth country, etc. How do flashbacks to his childhood differ from Hans's and how do they affect the novel as a whole?

4. How does nostalgia play into Netherland? Who is nostalgic and for what? Why does O'Neill open the novel with someone being nostalgic for New York City?

5. Discuss the title. What does "netherland" mean and what do you think it refers to?

6. Chuck's motto is "think fantastic." How does this both help and hinder him? Can you create an appropriate motto for Hans? How about for yourself?

7. What does the United States represent for Hans and Chuck? How are their relationships with their new country similar, and also polar opposites?

8. How are both Han's and Chuck's experiences typical of the American dream of immigrant stories? Compare Netherland to other stories of the immigrant experience (The Joy Luck Club, The House on Mango Street, House of Sand and Fog) or to what you imagine immigrating to a new country to be like.

9. Is the American Dream the same after 9/11? How are Americans both united and divided after 9/11? How is the world of Netherland particular to the United States after 9/11?

10. Describe the narrator's voice. Do you trust and like Hans as a narrator? Do you sympathize with him and understand his motives? Do you identify with him?

11. Describe the Chelsea Hotel when Hans lives there. How is it a character in the novel? How are the various inhabitants and the oddness of the place appealing and comforting to Hans?

12. What is Han's relationship with his mother? How does the relationship continue to affect him after his mother's death? How does it affect his being a father?

13. Discuss the theme of male friendship in the novel and its connection to sports. Early in the novel, Hans describes playing cricket with Chuck: "The rest of our lives—jobs, children, wives, worries—peeled away, leaving only this fateful sporting fruit [p. 48]." While Hans's friendship with Chuck goes beyond cricket, the sport is what initially brings the two men together. Why do you think cricket is so important to Hans? How does his friendship with Chuck change him?

14. Netherland is also the story of a marriage. Why is Hans and Rachel's marriage falling apart? What brings them together again in the end?

15. Discuss the theme of betrayal and forgiveness in Netherland. How do both Rachel and Hans betray each other and why? What about Chuck? Do the characters ever lead themselves astray and betray themselves? Does America betray both Chuck and Hans in the end?

Foreword

1. Describe the structure of Netherland. Why does the author open with Hans moving to New York City and then quickly jump into the future with Chuck's death and then jump back? Do you think these flashbacks and foward leaps relate to the narrative arc of the story? Is this simply how we tell stories? When you tell a story do you tell it chronologically? Why?

2. Childhood often slips into the story-that of both Hans and Chuck. Early on in the novel, Hans mentions that he doesn't connect to himself as a child ("I, however, seem given to self-estrangement" [p. 49]), then proceeds to produce numerous memories of his childhood and of his mother. How is this reconnecting with his heritage and his past important to the story? How is Chuck often the catalyst for these memories?

3. Chuck is more connected to his heritage than Hans. He socializes with others from the West Indies; he's married to a woman from his birth country, etc. How do flashbacks to his childhood differ from Hans's and how do they affect the novel as a whole?

4. How does nostalgia play into Netherland? Who is nostalgic and for what? Why does O'Neill open the novel with someone being nostalgic for New York City?

5. Discuss the title. What does "netherland" mean and what do you think it refers to?

6. Chuck's motto is "think fantastic." How does this both help and hinder him? Can you create an appropriate motto for Hans? How about for yourself?

7. What does the United States represent for Hans and Chuck? How are their relationships with their new country similar, and also polar opposites?

8. How are both Han's and Chuck's experiences typicalof the American dream of immigrant stories? Compare Netherland to other stories of the immigrant experience (The Joy Luck Club, The House on Mango Street, House of Sand and Fog) or to what you imagine immigrating to a new country to be like.

9. Is the American Dream the same after 9/11? How are Americans both united and divided after 9/11? How is the world of Netherland particular to the United States after 9/11?

10. Describe the narrator's voice. Do you trust and like Hans as a narrator? Do you sympathize with him and understand his motives? Do you identify with him?

11. Describe the Chelsea Hotel when Hans lives there. How is it a character in the novel? How are the various inhabitants and the oddness of the place appealing and comforting to Hans?

12. What is Han's relationship with his mother? How does the relationship continue to affect him after his mother's death? How does it affect his being a father?

13. Discuss the theme of male friendship in the novel and its connection to sports. Early in the novel, Hans describes playing cricket with Chuck: "The rest of our lives—jobs, children, wives, worries—peeled away, leaving only this fateful sporting fruit [p. 48]." While Hans's friendship with Chuck goes beyond cricket, the sport is what initially brings the two men together. Why do you think cricket is so important to Hans? How does his friendship with Chuck change him?

14. Netherland is also the story of a marriage. Why is Hans and Rachel's marriage falling apart? What brings them together again in the end?

15. Discuss the theme of betrayal and forgiveness in Netherland. How do both Rachel and Hans betray each other and why? What about Chuck? Do the characters ever lead themselves astray and betray themselves? Does America betray both Chuck and Hans in the end?

Customer Reviews

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Netherland 3.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 107 reviews.
Caledaravel More than 1 year ago
I remember when this book first came out, there was a lot of buzz about it in various magazines and periodicals. I selected it as the first book for a book club we were starting. I thought it would be topical as it was billed as the first post-9/11 American novel to deal with subject matter related to the tragedy.

No one in our book club liked this book. I will say that the writer has a way with words and his images are poetic and beautiful. Otherwise, the book is a massive bore. Uninteresting characters placed in uninteresting circumstances reacting in uninteresting ways. The plot meanders without regard to any sort of timeline so it's not clear when events are happening in relation to one another. I feel like this book was ambitious but not fully realized.
MaureenML More than 1 year ago
Like the last reviewer, I recommended this book for my book club based on the buzz and the fact this book was on the best 100 and even some of the best 10 books of 2008 lists. Only one member liked it and I think that was, in part, because she is Dutch. Were the rest of us missing something? The plot was puzzling, the characters were one dimensional and even unlikable with the sole exception of Chuck, the optimistic, confident immigrant so taken with his vision of the American dream. Rachel, the wife, was whining and self centered and Hans, the main character, was so disengaged from life that he appears more like a puppy dog who plays with anyone who throws him a ball than an adult professional. Pages of descriptions of cricket did not help either. Disappointing.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is most definitely one of the best books I have ever read. Hans appears to be this depressed, nonchalant character that pretty much lets his marriage and life go down the drain. But, deep down, you can truly tell that he cares about his family, especially Rachel.

Chuck - Now, he's another interesting character. He seems to want to be in everything, totally risky - Kind of like your average gangster immigrant. However, he seems to like Hans more than Hans likes Chuck. Hans sort of brushes him off as a regular guy - no real intent, or friendship worth cherishing. But, yet, Chuck goes out of his way to teach him to drive, meets him in Peekskill and then share stories of his brother (whom, he states, he never told anyone else about). More so, Hans is even listed as Chuck's Business Partner.

Part of me wants to blame that on Hans. He seems to be so apathetic towards many things, that he overlooks some valuable, and outlook-changing characters, such as Chuck. It's a shame he never acknowledged him before he died.

Book is most definitely interesting. Beautifully crafted and had me on the edge of my seat the whole time. :)
PotterNYC More than 1 year ago
"Netherland" is, quite simply, the best book I've read in many years. I finished in tears and immediately started reading it again. What a beautiful, beautiful book. I have to say I'm amazed at some of the low ratings the book has received here. I would be curious to know where the readers who rate the book with one or two stars actually live. In addition to his meditation on the 'American Dream', O'Neill perfectly captures the mood of New York City in the first years after 9/11 and it may be that the simplicity, truth and honesty of the writing affects those who witnessed it on a daily basis in a radically different way. For me, "Netherland" was one of the most powerful reading experiences I'v ever had and I cannot recommend it highly enough.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I found the book interesting to read, but it did not engage me. I read it with my book club and the book did provoke a lively discussion. I am glad I read it and thought it worthwhile. However, I would not recommend it to the casual reader. It takes perseverance to get through some of the parts.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I bought this booked based on a summer reading list I saw. What a big mistake. Post 9/11 in NYC, main character's wife leaves with child, he stays behind though they are from Europe, and meets strange people, mostly from playing cricket. Most sentences are extremely longwinded with an overuse of flowery language that causes your mind to wander. It is not written in a way to keep your attention, and I fall asleep every time I try to read it. Timeline bounces all over the place, and not in a good way. The characters seem unrelatable. I am forcing myself through this book because I feel like I must be missing something with good reviews from the literary, English major types, but I have decided they must like to pat themselves on the back when they can write a book where most sentences take up an entire paragraph. There has been nothing interesting or enjoyable about this book, and I have read many over the years. For just us regular people who like to read, I'd say this book is boring, disjointed, difficult to follow, and some parts too boring to read. It doesn't appear to get any better no matter how far into the 'story' you get.
kitts More than 1 year ago
Until we discussed this book at our monthly book club meeting,did I understand that the book is really about immigrant integration in the US.It is extremely well written but a very slow development of plot/purpose.6 of the 8 members vetoed the book at the start of our discussion. Most of us felt no connection to the main character[or any of the characters for that matter] and were totally bored with the cricket focus. Our long discussion led us to a deeper understanding that the story is perhaps a metaphor for the way the US is culturally changing with the integration of our new citizens from abroad.It took all 8 of us to figure this out and I must add that we are all highly educated serious readers.The discussion was far more interesting than the book itself!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This novel makes connections at many levels. What are the dreams that people bring to New York City and the United States? How does a couple deal with the post-traumatic shock of 9/11? How does a young man trace his identity to his homeland? What are the reflections of culture and identity in New York State, the Netherlands, and England? Brilliant book.
Reader399 More than 1 year ago
The writing is beautifully crafted with images I will remember long after the reading. Some of my favorites were the cricket field, NY, and later in the book with sun messing the water. London, NY, and Holland just before 911 are the settings where characters come alive with thoughts, actions, and reflections that sometimes seem dreamlike. The main character is a young man from Holland, working in London. As he travels, works, and experiences his marriage, parenthood, the sport of cricket, and some unusual friendships the plot unfolds. When I read the last sentences I was vitally aware of the growth. I thought it was a very good read and it replays in my mind even weeks after completing it. Cricket, family, NY. moms and the perspective captured me.
adunlea More than 1 year ago
Netherland by Joseph O'Neill is now in paperback. Its ISBN is 007275706 and it is published by Harper. It is a complex book with long sentences balanced with elegant prose. It has many intellectual contemplations and it is indeed a great literary novel. Some readers will find its jumping back and forth in time confusing. The plot is America through immigrants eyes after Sep 11th and on the verge of the Iraq War.It discusses New York City and cricket at length, the many pages of detail I could have done without. The story centralises around Hans a banker who lives in Chelsea Hotel after 9/11. His wife Rachael has left him and taken their child to live in London. Hans is devastated and mixes with other immigrants in New York. We read of their dreams, seeing the US as outsiders looking in. His friend Chuck wants to introduce cricket into the US but then this rogue is found dead. Rachael comes back to Hans in the end. This stands as a metaphor of hope and strength and rebirth of the US. I found it unncessarily detailed and long winded in places and would have liked more development of story and characters. It is well written and I do recommend you read this. This is reviewed by Annette Dunlea author of Always and Forever and The Honey Trap.
E-Bennet More than 1 year ago
The book reviews on this are great, the novel...not so much. To wrap it up in one fair sweep: I was bored. The entire time, bored. There was no connection between the main character and his situation. He was stale and distant from everything about his wife leaving him to his mother's death. Finally in the last paragraph, the very ending of the book does he show this bit of humanness, this bit of reality that is poetic and genuine. Oh, I tried so hard to enjoy this book, I pressed on with it though I wanted to fling it to the floor. And still after getting over half way through I hadn't even touched on anything minutely interesting, so I skipped to the last ten pages or so and claimed it finished. And even those last few pages were stale as last year's bread and I found myself blah-blahing through sentences, trudging toward the ending like through two feet of wet sand. There is nothing compelling in the story, nothing to move you forward because the main character is not compelled, he cares nothing for what comes his way, for the people around him, whether his wife comes back to him. Certainly I don't blame his wife for leaving him in the first place (which, by the way, is not even pondered by the character on why she left) because I was also ready to fly to another country and be done with this man. I'm sorry, I don't agree with the famous reviews of this one. I am dissappointed and can't believe I bought a hardback edition of this, which is going to the used bookstore today. These are the kind of books that make me think some of these book reviews have cash incentives behind them. Simply boring, a waste of my time.
LiterateHousewife on LibraryThing 24 days ago
Couldn't finish it. It wasn't for me.
thesearch on LibraryThing 30 days ago
Sometimes it's more about how you say things, than what you say. The strongest feature of Netherland is the dispassionate voice of the narrator Hans van den Broek. The narrator takes you along a detached journey through an emotional time as he re-lives post 9/11 New York City, a separation from his wife and son, psychic exhaustion, and a rebirth through the unlikely avenue of cricket While there is something of a snobbish air to the first half of the novel, and much gratuitous romanticization of New York City, O'Neill captures, in liquid prose, an honest and intimate picture of one man's universe. Quite good.
CasualFriday on LibraryThing 30 days ago
How could I not read the novel endorsed by Barack Obama? The narrator of Netherland, Hans van den Broek is a well-to-do financial analyst living in Manhattan in the aftermath of 9/11. When his wife takes his son and flees to London, Hans copes with the loneliness and disorientation by playing cricket and by befriending a Trinidadian "businessman" (read: gangster) named Chuck Ramkisson.The novel is beautifully written (and the only book I've read in a long time that drove me to the dictionary a few times) but I have to say I admired it more than I enjoyed it. I want to say that the overall effect is more cerebral than emotional, but in fact Hans is av very vulnerable character and there's emotion all over the place. I think I'll need to revisit this later and try to connect with it in a more substantial way.
mojomomma on LibraryThing 30 days ago
As his marriage disintegrates and his wife and son move back to London, Hans is left in post 9/11 New York City and takes up cricket again to fill his lonely hours. The novel reflects on modern marriage, the role of immigrants in modern American society, and Hans inability to find happiness with his stiff little Dutch self. A pretty good read.
rmckeown on LibraryThing 30 days ago
This novel won the prestigious PEN/Faulkner Award and a friend recommended it after a discussion of some of its post-modern qualities. Although well-written, I am not entirely convinced it deserves the accolades showered upon it. First of all, it flips back and forth between first and third person, much like the narrative flips back and forth between present, future, and past. This book most definitely will require another read, so I can track these changes and see if some narrative justification exists for these shifts.O'Neill has written a fine, interesting story of a Dutch financial analyst, Hans, who travels with his wife, Rachel, to New York from London. The reason for these job changes does not come out in the early chapters, but only much further along. Had I had this information, my understanding of the events in the "present" would have made more sense, and the "future" events would have been more logical. Because O'Neill jumped around, following the motivations of these characters became a chore.Also, the early parts of the book -- the prose seems a bit stiff -- possesses a voice different from later parts, which seem more natural, like this passage, when Hans describes an incident from his childhood in the Netherlands:"The old visual domain was unchanged: a long series of unlit back gardens leading to the almost indiscernible silhouette of dunes. To the north, which was to my right, the Scheveningen lighthouse twinkled for a second, then fell dark, then suddenly produced its beam, a skittish mile of light that became lost somewhere in the blue and black above the dunes. These sand hills had been my idea of wilderness. Pheasants, rabbits, and small birds of prey lived and died there. On escapades with a friend or two, we would urge our twelve-year-old bodies under the barbed wire lining the footpaths and run through the sand-grass into the wooded depths of the dunes." (86)I got the impression this represented the height of mischief and rebellion for the young boy. This passage also reminds me of young Stephen Daedalus coping with the vagaries of Clongowes in Poratrait of the Artist as a Young Man. The novel contains long paragraphs that seem ever so slightly organized to prevent the conclusion that Hans is day dreaming or we are experiencing his stream of consciousness, I found myself frequently back-tracking to find out where I was. Despite these drawbacks, I could not bring myself to abandon the story. I cared about Hans, and took his side in the discussions with Rachel. Fortunately, I have a large book of cricket rules, so I could make sense of some of the many references to the sport. However, some deeper connection between life and cricket must lie buried in all this, but I do not know enough about the sport to figure that out. Four stars--Jim, 7/25/09
novelcommentary on LibraryThing 30 days ago
the google summary states: In a New York City made phantasmagorical by the events of 9/11, and left alone after his English wife and son return to London, Hans van den Broek stumbles upon the vibrant New York subculture of cricket, where he revisits his lost childhood and, thanks to a friendship with a charismatic and charming Trinidadian named Chuck Ramkissoon, begins to reconnect with his life and his adopted country. As the two men share their vastly different experiences of contemporary immigrant life in America, an unforgettable portrait emerges of an 'other' New York populated by immigrants and strivers of every race and nationality. the above does a nice job of detailing the plot aspects of the the novel, but more than the plot is the mood of the book. It is wonderfully written and at times the sentences alone make it a joy. The 9/11 element in the story is not really part of the narrrative, but rather the reason for the despair of the narrator. The tumbling towers are symbolic of his marriage and become the reason that his wife leaves. Hans finds himself adrift trying to get solace from his success at work but ( Pg. 52: " But by the fall of 2002, even my work, the largest of the pots and pans I'd placed under my life's leaking ceiling, had become too small to contain my misery." He explains " we all find ourselves in temporal currents and that unles you're paying attention you'll discover, often too late, that an undertow of weeks or of years has pulled you deep into trouble." What is interesting is that the style of the novel - being told in reflection - let's the reader know that in fact his marriage is okay, that the mysterious Chuck R is murdered. these things are then reflected upon as Hans reviews his life' s events during his stay at the Charles Hotel in NYC. Some reviews have cited the Great Gatsby comparison and I see the resemblance- the distanced narrator who is enamored by the rich schemer. The final part ends thoughtfully and satisfyingly as Hans reflects back on his mother and remembers learning from her what the interesting sites really are. In reading about the book ,it was interesting to hear several podcasts that nicely detail the importance of the book. The author lived in the Charles Hotel that he depicts in the novel as well. It's possible that I admired this novel more than I loved it. It is certainly an important work and worth reading.
tibobi on LibraryThing 30 days ago
My book group chose this book for the month of June so I felt obligated to read it. I'd be lying if I didn't say that I was also a bit curious about it because Obama mentioned that he was reading it too, and if Obama is reading it then it MUST be good enough for me. Right? Initially I had a really hard time with it. At page 100, I was thinking about giving up on it. Why? Well, it was very wordy and there was a lot of internal dialogue which I don't normally "get." However, right around page 150, something clicked for me.The book centers around the sport of cricket, yet the main story really has nothing to do with cricket but I was so distracted with trying to understand the game that I think I missed some of the initial set-up. Once I realized that it wasn't about cricket, then things started to fall into place for me. The other thing I should mention, is although the setting is post 9/11, it's not really a huge part of the story. That surprised me.Basically, Hans is lonely. His marriage is falling apart. He has money but really nothing to show for it. He is desperate for love and acceptance and just sort of stumbles through life. Things happen to him. Well, he lets things happen to him. Oh, and he loves cricket. That pretty much sums it up.This is one of those books that you have to read for yourself. After discussing it with my book club, I did gain an appreciation for it that I did not have prior to the meeting. You really have to peel away the layers before you "get" it. However, you have to be patient enough to do that because the first few pages may not grab you right away, unless you enjoy a lot of internal dialogue. That said, in the end I was happy that I read it. Oh, and if you enjoyed The Great Gatsby, you will enjoy this book as there are a lot of similarities between the two.
coolmama on LibraryThing 30 days ago
OK, so I wasn't as swept away as all the raving reviews.It was a beautifully written, rather dense book told retrospectively by Hans van den Brock, a financial analyst and his lawyer wife Rachel who spend 3 years in NYC before, during and after 9/11. The book is also about Hans his love of cricket and his relationship with his friend Chuck who has some shady never explained dealings; and his goal of making NYC the head of cricket in the US.Netherland is not only the home country of Hans birth, but the neither here nor there of his life - not NYC, not London, not married, not divorced. He is in limbo.
CarolynSchroeder on LibraryThing 30 days ago
This is a very interesting book, quite brooding and lonely feeling, and it never quite regains any sense of true happiness (maybe acceptance?), so it will no doubt, not be everyone's cup of tea. That said, I found some of O'Neill's observations about a troubled marriage, loneliness and yearning to be beautiful and wise. Some sections actually took my breath away, and made me want to cry, so powerful were they. I also thought the journies of two total strangers becoming friends and accepting each others' differences, was well done. But as a whole, the novel really never came together for me. The flashbacks and timeframes, as some have pointed out, are a bit hard to follow. I also had no sympathy whatsoever for the wife. She was just not likeable whatsoever. I never really "got" what the protagonist saw in her. Anyway, three stars for beautiful writing, observations and just a purely interesting time and place (post 911 NYC as seen through the eyes of immigrants of all kinds).
andafiro on LibraryThing 30 days ago
This title came up time and time again as LibraryThing's #1 recommendation based on the have-read books I entered when I signed up a few weeks ago.It was easy to see how the match came about, but the insistent recommendation raised my hopes so high that ultimately I was a little disappointed. More beautiful turns of phrase that you can shake a cricket bat at, though, and a touching story of a marriage.
NigelM on LibraryThing 30 days ago
It took a while for this book to cast its spell, but once it had I found it quite enchanting.The novel is narrated by a Dutch-born market analyst, Hans de Broek, who has spent most of his adult life in England, but who moves with his British wife and young child to New York. The experience of 9/11 politicises his wife, and frustrated by the apparent lack of a similar response in her husband, she separates from him and returns to the UK with their child. Whilst alone in New York, Hans (who was an enthusiastic cricketer in his Netherlands childhood) becomes involved in the local cricket scene, played mostly by first-generation immigrants from the Indian sub-continent and the East & West Indies. Here he first encounters Chuck Ramkissoon, with whom he strikes up a strange friendship. Years later (and this is not to give away the plot, since it is revealed in the opening pages), with Hans having returned to England, he learns that Chuck's corpse has been fished up out of the Hudson river.That is the bare-bones of the plot, but It is hard to describe what the novel exactly is about, as it encompasses so many different subjects and themes in a relatively short space. The 'selling point' in publicity for it has been what it has to say about cricket, but this is a relatively small part of the book - I would say happily a small part, since I am not a fan of cricket, but O'Neill writes so beautifully and compellingly about it that you are able to share the narrator's enthusiasm whilst you are reading.A major theme appears to be loss: both in terms of losing (Hans has lost his wife and son, his father died when he was young and he has suffered the loss of his mother twice, firstly when he left the Netherlands and then again with her death, and underlying everything are the losses of 9/11), and in terms of being lost: Hans is doubly displaced in New York, being an immigrant first from the Netherlands and then from England. His experience as a wealthy immigrant is contrasted with that of his fellow cricketers, and particularly with that of Chuck, but not in a moralistic way; indeed it is quite a feat, given the current climate, that Hans comes across so sympathetically. He is portrayed mostly as an observer of life and his surroundings, who doesn't make judgements and for the main part is happy to drift along, taking things as they come. This is a chief cause of his wife's frustration with him, but also what allows him to pursue his friendship with Chuck, who by contrast is a visionary, someone who always has plans and schemes on the go, some of them disreputable (leading to his eventual downfall) but others magnificent follies, most notably his plan to build a cricket stadium in New York.Chuck's story is reminiscent of that of The Great Gatsby's, and O'Neill shares Fitzgerald's lyrical prose style. Another writer that came to mind when reading the book was W.G. Sebald. Like Sebald, O'Neill's structure is (seemingly at least) very discursive and digressive, with memories nested inside memories, meaning it can be difficult to keep track of events if you are not reading attentively. But this is a book that very much rewards your attention, and I am sure I will be reading it again to draw more from it.
waddleduck on LibraryThing 30 days ago
Really did not enjoy this book. Difficult to work out what time the narrative was in whether past present or future as it jumped about. The chapters were extremely long - it didn't seem to flow well. There was far too much detail about cricket in the story. I just kept wishing he would 'get to the point' . Still not sure what the 'point' was perhaps someone else could enlighten me.
mejix on LibraryThing 30 days ago
me parecio una novela un poco frustrante. me gusta la prosa de este autor y la novela tiene muchas secciones buenas. me gusta la elegancia para articular algunas ideas. la trama sin embargo no me funciona. me parece que hay demasiados cambios entre presente y pasados. pierde propulsion. tambien se siente desenfocada. no ayuda tampoco que los personajes principales no son muy agradables. el narrador es medio bobo, la esposa es insoportable, y el amigo de trinidad es un listo. la amistad nunca se desarrolla. en realidad no hay mucha razon para lamentar su perdida. crei que iba a haber una sorpresa que explicaria la muerte, algo sobre los negocios turbios pero no, nada.
Doondeck on LibraryThing 30 days ago
An engrossing story very well written. It weaves in and out of various time and scenes with ease and precision. The 9/11 events are present but never in the middle of the story. And Chuck is a most mysterious character. Never thought I would spend so much time reading about cricket.