Thursday 17 February 2011

Mulisch, Harry "The Discovery of Heaven"

Mulisch, Harry "The Discovery of Heaven" (Dutch: De ontdekking van de hemel) - 1992

An extraordinary book that touches many different subjects. Science, technology, war, religion, philosophy, social values, politics, intelligence, adolescence, family life.

The story of two men and a woman, a child, a quest for the meaning of life.

An almost epic tale. Not exactly an easy read but well worth it.

Some quotes I really liked (my translations will probably not be the same as in the book, therefore I add the original Dutch text in brackets):

When the extraordinary becomes the everyday norm, a revolution is going on. (Wanneer het onmogelijke het dagelijkse wordt, is er een revolutie aan de gang.)

On political parties
In Cuba, you could learn the meaning of radicalism. In the United States, the left wing of the Democratic Party was still more right than a right-wing party in the Netherlands, and a party as right as the Republican Party, let alone its right wing, didn't exist here in a serious way, but in Cuba the regime was considerably more left-wing than even the Communist Party in the Netherlands. (Op Cuba kon je de betekenis van het woord radicaliteit leren. In de Verenigde Staten was de linkervleugel van de Democratische Partij altijd nog rechtser dan een rechtse partij in Nederland, en een partij zo rechts als de Republikeinse Partij, laat staan haar rechtervleugel, bestond hier helemaal niet op een serieuze manier; maar op Cuba was het bewind nog aanzienlijk linkser dan in Nederland zelfs de communistische partij.)

On people in different seasons
The people looked sullen and unhappy ... Can you think of Chopin or Stravinsky in such a climate? They would not have existed in any case, and further, there was never anything important imagined or invented ... (De mensen keken nors en ontevreden … Waren Chopin of Strawinsky denkbaar in zo'n klimaat?  Ze waren er in elk geval niet verschenen, en ook verder was er nooit iets belangrijks bedacht of uitgevonden … )

On the meaning of life
Why was there actually something rather than nothing? If everything still came to an end, what sense did it make that there had ever been anything? Had there actually been anything? If one day there would be no more people, no one who could remember anything, could you say that anything ever had happened? ... (Waarom was er eigenlijk iets, en niet niets? Als alles toch voorbij ging, wat had het dan voor zin dat her er ooit was geweest?  Was het er dan eigenlijk wel geweest? Als er op een dag geen mensen meer zouden zijn, niemand meer die zich nog iets kon herinneren, kon je dan zeggen dat er ooit iets was gebeurd? …)

From the back cover:

"This magnificent epic has been compared to works by Umberto Eco, Thomas Mann, and Dostoyevsky. Harry Mulisch's magnum opus is a rich mosaic of twentieth-century trauma in which many themes -- friendship, loyalty, family, art, technology, religion, fate, good, and evil -- suffuse a suspenseful and resplendent narrative.

The story begins with the meeting of Onno and Max, two complicated individuals whom fate has mysteriously and magically brought together. They share responsibility for the birth of a remarkable and radiant boy who embarks on a mandated quest that takes the reader all over Europe and to the land where all such quests begin and end. Abounding in philosophical, psychological and theological inquiries, yet laced with humor that is as infectious as it is willful,
The Discovery of Heaven lingers in the mind long after it has been read. It not only tells an accessible story, but also convinces one that it just might be possible to bring order into the chaos of the world through a story."

This novel was voted best Dutch book ever.

We discussed this in our international book club in February 2004.

See more comments on my ThrowbackThursday post in 2022.

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