Hans van den Broek is disoriented for many reasons. Born and raised in Holland, he married an English woman and lives in New York City. After the World Trade Center attack, the family fled their downtown apartment and moved, they thought temporarily, to the very bizarre Chelsea Hotel. Rachel felt increasingly insecure in New York and decamped to London with the couple’s young son, Jake. For two years Hans has been frozen geographically and emotionally in his New York job analyzing oil projects for a large financial firm. He partially fills the void of his separation by friendship with a larger-than-life Trinidadian of Indian descent whom he met through cricket, a game he is passionately fond of. Joseph O’Neill’s existential novel Netherland (Pantheon, $23.95) expresses the strangeness felt by New Yorkers after 9/11 and, indeed, the sense of dislocation we all feel in the new world that has come into being.
Hans van den Broek, the alienated protagonist of Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland (Vintage, $14.95), remains in New York when his lawyer wife, anxious after 9/11, returns to Britain with their son. Meanwhile, Hans’s mother, the only parent he remembers, has died in the Netherlands. To dispel his depression, Hans seeks out a weekly cricket game with a bunch of ex-colonials and falls in with Chuck Ramkissoon, a mysterious Trinidadian. Chuck’s schemes and energy become a counterweight to Hans’s passivity. The pacing of the novel, the simplicity of the plot, and the focus on a few characters, make Hans’s sadness and Chuck’s grandiosity stand out. This prize-winning novel is deceptively simple, and immensely thought provoking.