The Rat of Amsterdam
A pitch-black novel about a universe dominated by deceit and hypocrisy
Pieter Waterdrinker’s panoramic new book is a hellish indictment of the charity industry, the fraudulent use of EU funds, and shysters who pay gratuitous lip service to altruism but are really just looking to line their own pockets.
Meet Ruben Ivanovich Katz (b. 1978, Riga), the protagonist of Pieter Waterdrinker’s gripping new novel, The Rat of Amsterdam. He is Latvian, Russian, Jewish and holds a passport to the ‘flowerbulb kingdom by the sea.’
He and his parents left the Soviet Union less than a year before the country fell apart, traveling to Poland, Germany and the Netherlands, with Israel as the intended final destination they never reached. Only Ruben’s father is Jewish, but the Katz family pretends to be of pure descent so that they can emigrate. But that’s not the only lie in the life of this failed migrant, who seems to be carrying the entire history of the failed Soviet empire on his shoulders. Waterdrinker’s literary universe is one characterized by deceit and hypocrisy, and this new novel appears to form a thematic trilogy with his previous novels Poubelle and 40 Tchaikovsky Street.
Ruben starts off working for the ‘National Poor People’s Lottery,’ which people play with a lottery ticket based on their fingerprints. He figures out a way to link together the fingerprints of people living in the same area. Later he returns to Russia, where he puts his rhetorical and creative genius to use working for the ‘Siberian Front,’ a group that organizes a reconnaissance trip through Russia for Europeans seeking to emigrate. When his childhood sweetheart Phaedra drowns, he gets the blame.
Ruben Katz, who is writing all this down at the age of 41 in a Dutch prison cell, swears he is innocent of Phaedra’s death – that his life has just happened to him, including his metamorphosis from human to rat.
Ruben is the perfect vehicle for Waterdrinker to take on big topics such as love and death as well as offer his view of humankind and the precarious times we live in. Through Ruben, he gives a face to the nebulous figure of the Russian - that unknown, yet feared and maligned other who, Waterdrinker shows, is not an ounce better or worse than anyone else in Europe.
Waterdrinker’s literary talent is revealed in the long, breathless sentences and stunning turns of phrase that propel the story forward and constantly reveal new layers of meaning. Language is like liquid gold in Waterdrinker’s hands.