In a Dark Wood
Desperately in search of love
If love died at Auschwitz, is there any hope of reviving it? This is a crucial question in Dis (In a Dark Wood), a tragic love story set in the provincial town of Assen in June 1980, on the eve of an internationally famous motorcycle race, the Dutch TT. In a style that explores the whole range of human emotions, Marcel Möring recounts the rise and impending downfall of the prosperous but despondent Jakob Noach, proud father of three daughters.
In May 1945, just after the end of the war, Noach crawls out of his hiding place on the heathland of northeast Holland, ‘like a mole’. He has managed to elude the Germans, but his parents and brother were not so lucky, and their loss is almost too much for him to bear. At first he is consumed by anger at the homicidal anti-Semitism of the German invaders and the opportunism of Dutch collaborators. But he soon turns his anger into unbridled energy. Starting out as a simple shoemaker, he rapidly climbs the social ladder of Assen, establishing himself as a successful real-estate magnate. Now Jakob Noach, the father figure whose only love is for his daughters, is dying.
Marcus Kolpa, a writer who has run short of ideas, is a son on a quest. He returns to his hometown Assen and tries to get back in touch with his childhood sweetheart Chaja, Noach’s youngest daughter. The backdrop to the action is the Assen fair, a maze of sinister attractions. But the path to love is strewn with casualties. In the chaotic night before the tt race, the characters fail to connect, and their inability to love becomes painfully clear.
With ingenious shifts in narrative perspective and the use of surprising images, Möring paints an unsparing portrait of a city on the edge of hell: Assen as the tragic centre of the world, a city of words that bears more than a passing resemblance to Dis (from Dante’s Inferno) or James Joyce’s Dublin.
Möring cunningly casts an itinerant peddler as the incarnation of death. Will this wandering figure have the last word in the urban labyrinth of Dis? Or is there a glimmer of hope in the canvas of Möring’s exhilarating literary circus? At the end it seems that Marcus Kolpa may have found the start of a new love. Dis is a brisk, innovative novel of international stature. In Möring’s capable hands, Assen really does become the centre of the world.