Return to Palermo
An incisive story
Philip Snijder made his debut in 2007 with Sunday Money, an autobiographical novel about growing up in a poor neighbourhood beside the port of Amsterdam. It gave a lyrical picture of a young boy’s struggle to cope in a harsh milieu that tolerated no weakness. This second novel is set on the distant island of Sicily, in the chaotic Palermo of the 1970s.
An 18-year-old boy and a 17-year-old girl go on their first holiday together, without any parents. Partly because they don’t speak the language, panic sets in on their train journey south when they think they’ve lost their luggage in the crush. At home, the narrator’s father mockingly calls them the “old married couple”: they watch TV hand in hand and their life is all planned, with no surprises in store. They only ever make love under the covers with the lights off.
During their stay in Palermo, they meet the flamboyant Sandro and his girlfriend Katia, and become firm friends despite their gaucheness and the language barrier. After that, they return to Palermo every summer. The narrator recognises the great contrast between his own life and that of liberal, activist Sandro, who frequently indulges in drink and drugs, but no matter how hard the young Dutchman tries to fit in, everything contrives to make it clear that there’s more going on than he can ever hope to grasp.
Snijder brings the clash between his protagonist’s innocent world and his eventual maturity painfully to life. Return to Palermo is an incisive story about the illusions that people maintain even after drifting apart, and after losing the innocence of youth. With his lyrical, pared-down style Snijder is able in just a few words to capture lost youth in all its intensity.