This was a completely accidental find in my neighborhood's library about a month ago while looking for a book about Jesse James--but that's neither here nor there. Somehow I happened upon the spine and I suppose the title intrigued me enough to pull the book out and read the jacket, excerpted below:
"1945. Jacob Noah emerges from hiding to discover that his family has perished under the Nazis. Rebuilding his life, Noah becomes a shoemaker in the Dutch town of Assen. Over the years, he patiently expands his business and eventually becomes the city's most influential entrepeneur. Yet success cannot alleviate his loneliness and suffering nor the tragedy of history.
"Nearly forty years later, this dispirited, loveless man veers off the road in a tragic accident. But instead of entering death's abyss, Noah finds himself on a journey through his soul. Guided by a peddler, he descends into the town's smoky center, a man-made hell reminiscent of Dante's Inferno. But it is not until he encounters a young man named Marcus Kolpa, a respected intellectual struggling with the implications of Jewish identity and the shared history of his people, that Noah is able to truly understand the meaning of his own life and the tragedies he has experienced."
Thoughts: The Inferno took place on Good Friday; the long night in Möring's novel takes place during a secular biker-fest in a small Dutch town called Assen (there is much wordplay as the expense of the "Ass" component of that town's name throughout the book, by the way). Jacob Noah and Marcus Kolpa are main characters, but Möring also devotes chapters to such characters as the town paper editor, some old spinster too repressed to be a lesbian, the local second-generation Moluccans, et cetera. Dante is referred to throughout the novel, as is Odysseus (Kolpa in particular is oft-portrayed as looking for his Ithaca/Penelope), but the writing itself reminds me a lot of Italo Calvino (referenced in passing in a chapter tat Kolpa passes with a skin-of-his-teeth Italian nightclub owner). The formatting is played around with a lot--e.g. it took me a few such chapters to realize the the pages marked with giant "(" and ")" did in fact designate parenthetical chapters in which the focus rested on less-than-main characters (i.e. the town paper editor, the old spinster who could have been a lesbian but didn't know how to be, etc.). There's even a chapter told entirely in graphic novel form.
[Spoiler essences below!]
A lot of the novel deals with this, what we might call middle-class dream-notion, of IT. Like keeping up with the Joneses, the pursuit of happiness, except with people who grew up either with survivors' guilt or concepts of Marcuse or lofteir philosophers. I think the gap in generational idea(l)s is best narrated in this excerpt:
" The idea of power over his own life, the quest of happiness, the possiblility of doing something ... Where did it come from? Who had thought of it? It must have arisen in someone who was short of nothing. Someone who had not felt the sucking stream of history, who had not been slung about, like flotsam, swirling and rubbing and submerging, by events that only ever affect the weak, the vulnerable, the fragile, the lonely, the marginal. Just as the trees at the edge of the forest sway in a storm. Or lonely trees. Weak tress." (426)
I think that overall the novel's a worthwhile read; however I will warn that the first 100 pages, while not dry (here I'm thinking of the warnings surrounding The Scarlet Letter), did give the impression of, "Just what is this book about?" If you can deal with multiple, not-strictly-chronological storylines, it's not so bad. I do not think that Marcus Kolpa's point of conflict is as big as the jacket would portray it, nor as strictly Jew-angsty as the wording might suggest--in fact his conflict seems resolved fairly low-key, almost off-screen--ultimately the plot ends with Noah, his identity, and his answer to the ever-recurrent question throughout this book: "IS THIS IT?" and how the characters deal with the ever-present, multi-faceted "It" of mundane existence.