The Journey of the Empty Bottles
Abdolah is an unusual and unique voice in Dutch literature because he uses his theme to hold up a mirror to his new compatriots. In his columns, he subtly questions the famous tolerance of the Dutch and the supposedly peaceful coexistence of races and beliefs in the Netherlands. In his third book, the novel De reis van de lege flessen, Abdolah writes about Bolfazl, a refugee from Iran who, together with his wife and child, has to build up a new life in the Netherlands.
He has to get used to everything: the Dutch language (which is not easy to learn), the housing estates, the cows, the rain, the housewives on his street who peek out at the foreigners from behind their curtains, and also his stark-naked, white neighbour René basking in the sun.
All these shocking confrontations alternate with recollections of Persian customs and traditions. Bolfazl plunders the baggage of the past in an attempt to hold back the flood of new impressions. When René, with whom he is gradually developing a friendship, gives him a bicycle, he immediately thinks of the big bicycle they kept in the hallway at home in case of emergency. The story of Bolfazl’s integration into this strange country finds a shadowy counterpart in the parallel events of René’s life: he is a divorced father who has become a homosexual and is rejected by his environment. An exile in his own country, he falls into a depression and commits suicide. Shocked, Bolfazl visits the family and friends of his former neighbour.
‘A typical quality of exiles: being silent,’ remarks the main character. Fortunately, Abdolah breaks this silence with his striking prose – terse and, partly because of that, intensely powerful and effective. Bolfazl proves that putting up a fight is better than being destroyed by inner conflicts. Abdolah’s dual triumph is that he not only expresses this message, but does so in a genuinely poetic novel.