Good intentions gone bad
After a forty year absence, Mr Mulder – a character from Van Dis’ previous novel, an introvert full of good intentions, none of which seem appreciated – returns to the country that is part of his history: South Africa. In the early seventies, he and his friend Donald were involved in opposing the Apartheid regime. It was a time in which there was room for ideals, for romance. He fell in love with the beautiful activist Catherine, whom he never saw again after she was sent to prison.
Donald invites him for a visit and, because he feels like he can do with some distraction, he flies to South Africa, moving in to a run-down holiday home in a quiet spot on the Cape. The situation has changed, apartheid is over, but poverty, a sense of insecurity as well as a lack in mutual understanding are on the increase. The rich whites have withdrawn to heavily guarded homes high on the dunes, the fishing village below is inhabited by poor blacks with disillusioned, drug addicted children.
Hendrik is one of them. He’s a fatherless village boy, addicted to crystal meth, called ‘tik’ locally. Mulder finds him on the streets with a broken arm and takes him to the hospital, but the boy is resigned to his fate. On his walks through the village, the Dutchman tries to break the ice with the locals but, despite all his good intentions, he comes up against a wall of mistrust. Meanwhile, he and Donald reminisce about their friendship, in probing and deeply emotional conversations.
Compactly, picturesquely, Van Dis depicts the adventures of two exceptional men who are bound up with a country they both love and hate. The ideals they once fought are embodied in the paternal way they both take care of tik kop Hendrik, who, in the end, literally steals away like a thief in the night and backstabs his helpers. This novel shows convincingly, and alarmingly, the divisions of a country and the impossibility of ever coming to terms with the past.