A Hundred Years of Conviviality
A masterly quest for purity
After her epic novel, Didar and Faruk – nominated for the Libris Literature Prize 2007 – set in Stalinist Russia during the Second World War, the Estonian-Tatar author, Sana Valiulina, meticulously dismembers Dutch society which, in her opinion, is bursting at the seams in these overheated times. Roland Warmer, a scion of a prosperous family and recipient of an excellent education, decides to seek significance and salvation in this prosaic society. The grotesque quest for the ‘truth’ begins literally at the bottom. On the principle that ‘per merdam ad astra’ (from faeces to the stars), Roland applies for a job with the municipal cleaning department in the most squalid and dangerous part of the city.
He ends up in a colourful environment, populated by an impressive group of outcasts: the boys from the cleaning department with their simple pleasures; an improbably fetid, raving female vagabond, and the queen of the waste, who has a fascination for excrement. All watch in astonishment as Roland enthusiastically pounces upon the filthiest jobs, driven by his will to make sacrifices.
As he tirelessly disposes of the world’s waste like a modern Sisyphus, he begins to metamorphosize. His transformation continues when, during a short holiday, he falls into the hands of a shamanistic eccentric who gives him hallucogenic seaweed juice. Once he returns to the garbage zone, it seems like Roland’s pursuit of purity has yielded nothing at all. It is only when he becomes unintentionally mixed up in the murder of a Pole and is forced to look after the filthy female addict that he can do anything of genuine significance: ‘By saving one person, you have actually saved the entire world.’ But once again it turns out that the world is not exactly grateful for his help.
Honderd jaar gezelligheid (A Hundred Years of Conviviality) can be justly described as a book of our time. Valiulina’s outrageous imagination radiates from every page and she refers with light-footed ease to world literature. Together with its effervescent and original tone, this makes the novel an unforgettable reading experience.