A moving and majestic novel about a lost soul who emerges from the shadows
Paul Krüzen, the novel’s unlikely hero, is given a gift by his best friend Hedwiges: a medal of Saint Rita, the patron saint of lost causes. Like most of the men in this book, the two are solitary souls, misfits at odds with the modern world. In this majestic novel, Tommy Wieringa not only returns to the rural sensibilities of his barnstorming breakthrough Joe Speedboat but also unites a number of strands from his earlier work: the bonds of friendship, the loner’s battle with his surroundings, and the shadow cast by an absent mother.
Paul Krüzen, a Catholic Dutchman, lives with his father on a farm near the German border. He tends to his father’s festering leg wound, deals in military memorabilia and eats at Shu Dynasty, the local Chinese restaurant. The only women of any real significance in Paul’s life are the exotic beauties at a brothel run by former classmate Steggink, whose misspent youth was a taste of things to come.
As a child, Paul was tied to his mother’s apron strings. Beautiful and worldly wise, Alice was in a different league to her provincial husband Aloïs, who was racked by homesickness three days into their honeymoon in Holland. In 1975 the rut of their day-to-day existence was shaken to the core when a Russian pilot escaping to the West fell from the sky and crash-landed his crop duster on the farm. The Russian departed a few months later with Alice at his side.
Wieringa’s sketches of life on the farm and the social wranglings in the border village are masterly, complete with evenings at the local pub and off-colour jokes about the Chinese immigrants.
Things turn ugly when someone breaks into Hedwiges home and makes off with a small fortune. Severely traumatised, Hedwiges dies not long after and it is Paul who finds his body. He points the finger at Steggink and his Russian henchman, an accusation that does not go down well in the close-knit community. Chapter 33 delivers a chilling climax, culminating in the night when Paul prepares to settle his score with Steggink, and, more pointedly, the Russian.
A glorious portrayal of a world mired in tradition, Saint Rita depicts loners wrestling with the effects of globalisation, from the grocer losing his battle with the supermarket chains and their discount vouchers, to the plumber who feels threatened by his Polish rival. Packed with naturalistic detail, the tale of Paul Krüzen is emblematic of those floundering characters struggling on the margins of a changing world. Saint Rita is both a lament for those left behind and an ode to those with the guts to rise above themselves.