The Last Freedom
Celebrated Antillian author makes a comeback: probing political and interpersonal issues in the shadow of a vulcano
Arion’s 1973 first novel, Dubbelspel (Double Play), was a great success in the Netherlands and is still seen as a significant contribution to Dutch-language literature. Now, after sixteen years of literary silence, Arion has finally published a new novel. ‘I’m not interested in just writing a beautiful story. I need to have a lot of stock in trade before I can do anything with it,’ he once said in an interview. The long wait has been productive: De laatste vrijheid (‘The Last Freedom’) is substantial and stimulating, its characters raise questions of ecological, interpersonal and intercontinental importance. Above all, it is another admirable literary achievement. Arion’s work gives the Dutch language grace and melody. His eloquence and style make a lot of other prose seem as dry and brittle as dead wood.
De laatste vrijheid is a sombre title for a sombre story about ‘experts’ who regulate social life and turn individuals into passive clients. The retired Antillean teacher, Daryll Guenepou, returns to the beautiful island of Amber where he once, long ago, was happy with his wife. Daryll invites his children over and then considers asking his wife abandon her music career in Europe and come back as well. Then a volcano threatens the town of Constance where he has finally put down anchor. An Antillean Under the Volcano, but with a multiplicity of characters and themes. The rumbling from Amber’s sulphur mine gives a feeling of uncertainty, even after the feared eruption. But isn’t the volcano a manifestation of the primeval force which binds people and nature in the West Indies?
‘Patience is everything,’ says Daryll. Surrounded by water and close to an unpredictable volcano, Arion’s setting may seem both distant and enclosed. But everyone, including the widely-travelled group of western journalists who arrive there, finds out that the island is very much part of the modern world.