Tragicomic novel about a displaced man trying to find his way in life
Semmier Karim fled Iraq and ended up in the Netherlands where, after waiting in an asylum seekers’ center for nine years, he finally received a residency permit. In Two Blankets, Three Sheets, Rodaan Al Galidi described the bureaucratic red tape surrounding immigration; in the sequel, Holland, Semmier gets to know the country and its inhabitants. He affectionately criticizes Dutch society and provides funny descriptions of First World problems.
Semmier’s various temporary homes include a farm, a monastery, a rundown apartment shared by a bunch of students, and a house full of undocumented people and asylum seekers. He eats simple Dutch fare (potatoes, boiled-to-death vegetables and one piece of meat per person), listens to many political discussions and attends a farewell ceremony for a rabbit.
Semmier discovers that walking a dog is the best way to get talking to Dutch people – in fact just walking with a ball and a leash is enough. Semmier gets to know people, makes friends and falls in love with the somber Lidewij. His unrequited love for her runs like a thread throughout the book. Semmier’s hobby – collecting discarded photo albums from acquaintances – is another leitmotif. As he studies the pictures of them and their ancestors, he invents their life stories and empathizes with the people in the pictures. It’s his way of fostering a connection with people who could disappear from his life at any moment.
Beneath seemingly casual observations about a typical Western society, readers will discover a novel about identity and the need for kinship. Al Galidi shows, painfully, how solidarity with other people can make you both strong and weak. When Semmier has a socially maladjusted friend move into his room in the student flatshare, the others give him a choice: either his friend goes or they both do. Without a moment of doubt, Semmier packs his bags and they both leave.
At the end of the book it turns out that Semmier’s search for a home, friendship and love hasn’t entirely succeeded. Semmier’s grief and acceptance of his fate will leave no reader untouched. With Holland, Al Galidi gives readers a sneak peek into his own photo album and sheds light on the predicament of displaced people.