The Red Dream
Two amusing losers in times of revolution
De rode droom (The Red Dream) is a playful, unconventional novel about two older men who are engrossed in their dream of a new utopia. Spare-time philosophers Krap and Kowalski live in K, a city where they plan and develop theories to advance society. When their country Homeland is taken over by the regime of Neighbouring Country, many of their certainties are shattered and both lose their jobs – one as attendant at the Lift Museum, the other as a lavatory-paper distributor.
Everything was better in the past, they both believe. The old regime was Communist, but in the new enlightened dictatorship, the free market reigns supreme and the poor become poorer and the rich become richer. Krap and Kowalski’s situation deteriorates so much so that they decide to leave and travel to Amsterdam, where prosperity is in sharp contrast to the world they have left behind. Initially, because they are foreigners, they cannot find work, but then they are offered to travel to a luxurious resort in Tunisia as inspectors for a travel agency. The isolation of the resort reminds the reader what the former communist utopias were like – isolated, as if the world around them wasn’t there.
The story of the two gentlemen is rich in literary references, from Kafka to Orwell, from Voltaire (Candide) to Flaubert (Bouvard et Pécuchet). Bernlef enjoys poking fun at reality: the novel is full of witty dialogue and playful asides. Another of the novel’s leitmotifs is Kowalski’s unrequited love for Krap’s ex-wife, to whom he writes poems. Krap himself propagates free love. The Red Dream veers from parody to parable, from picaresque novel to political statement. And, as much is left to the reader’s imagination, it is a novel which grips the attention.