A tender story of love, loss and natural beauty with an unexpected ending
Sarie and Barend, married for more than forty years, are happily looking forward to taking a trip around Europe in a camper van. Their plans come crashing down when Sarie is unexpectedly diagnosed with metastasised ‘stage IV’ cancer. Armed with painkillers, the couple return to the Swedish island where their love began.
‘“I want to go to Öland,” Sarie says. “I want to see all those places again and remember how happy we were… I don’t want to spend any more time thinking about cancer and therapies and prognoses. If you really want to help, then take me with you and make me happy like we were then, so that I can die happy.”’
Barend struggles with his wife’s decision to let her illness take its course but does everything in his power to give her the final journey she so badly wants.
Together they enjoy the Swedish countryside and the memories it conjures up for both of them, until Sarie’s tumour triggers increasingly frequent epileptic fits and dangerously uninhibited behaviour.
Ultimately Barend realises what he will have to sacrifice to keep Sarie’s happiness intact.
The story Sander Kollaard tells is pro- foundly sad without being either morose or heavy. Aside from a number of sobering digressions on euthanasia, palliative care and symptoms of the illness (‘To die of cancer is to die of a hysterical profusion of life’), *Stage IV *is above all a story about love and the ways in which a fatal illness can dramatically destabilise even an ideal relationship. But it is also a novel about the natural world and its power to console, described by Kollaard with exquisite and breathtaking precision.
Although the couple’s journey only takes them through a small part of Sweden, Sarie identifies with the protagonist of Selma Lagerlöf ’s book The Wonderful Adventures of Nils, who travels the length and breadth of the country, a physical journey that stands for a journey within. Stage IV might similarly be described as a road novel. Though limited to a single setting, it takes its characters and its readers on a journey that is both heartfelt and enriching.
- Voted Book of the Month by the book panel of the Netherlands’ most influential talk show, De Wereld Draait Door.