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Thursday September 18, 2014
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Karel Glastra van Loon

 

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Although all of the Dutch writers-in-residence have had wonderful skill with English, most of them have not had books available in our language. So, as interesting as they have been, they have passed through Ann Arbor without being noticed by the larger community.

Karel van Loon, this year's Dutch writer-in-residence, is worth noticing, and he does have a book in translation. Van Loon has traveled widely around the world, writing often about Asia and the wars there, in addition to making films, writing about rock 'n' roll, and finishing best-selling novels. His 1999 novel, recently translated into English as A Father's Affair, has sold almost 300,000 copies in the Netherlands (in proportion to the population, that is the equivalent of 10 million copies in the U.S.), has been turned into a film, and has been translated into twenty-nine languages.

The plot is fairly simple, but it is centered on an elemental situation. Armin Minderhout has a thirteen-year-old son by his first wife, who died ten years before the novel begins. After having difficulty conceiving a child with his second wife, he is told that he is sterile and has always been sterile. The boy cannot be his child. Armin sets out to find the father, even though he has few clues and no one to ask. Although a decidedly modern man with the sophisticated urbanity we like to associate with European intellectuals, he is possessed and driven by jealousy. Before he resolves his questions, his jealousy almost destroys the extraordinary relationship he has with his wife and son.

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