Book

Carl Friedman

The Grey Lover

Carl Friedman hates always being expected to say something about the Jewish experience in interviews. ‘It’s scarcely a motivating force for me.’ She prefers, a propos of her latest collection of stories, to observe that she always writes about strong women. ‘I can’t imagine writing about a woman who doesn’t stand on her own two feet. Women are generally stronger than men. You don’t find many men with backbone.’ It is true that Jewishness is not so much the underlying theme of Friedman’s work as an axiomatic motif, and as for the women, they certainly do stand out in the three stories in De grauwe minnaar.

Take the Polish Hanna Katz from the title story who, having lived for almost a century, decides she has had enough of this world: she puts on her shroud, lies down on her bed and expires. ‘Her husband Gersjom had passed a hundred by so many years that he had forgotten the precise number and it no longer mattered.’ In this story Friedman first adopts a calm fairytale tone but this is deceptive. Subsequently, a strange and tragic story unfolds, when the aged Gersjom is squeezed dry by a miser and the only consolation he can find is with a donkey. ‘Weren’t both of them, Jew and donkey, outcasts in the world?’ The old man has dubbed the animal Menachem, ‘he who consoles’. At the end of the story the man brays and the donkey responds and leaps on to his back, which spells the end for old Katz.

The piece de resistance in this collection is the final story ‘Thinking of Bette’, an autobiographically-based account of a daughter and her dying mother. The mother, an avid reader, is also strong: stubborn and wilful, which does not make the daughter’s task any easier. How can she help her mother, once she has made the four-hour journey from Amsterdam to the Flemish village where Bette lives? ‘There is no manual. No one has told me how Im supposed to manage. And I haven’t got enough time left to learn.’ In conversations, memories and actions Friedman constructs an emotional monument for the mother, while at the same time conveying with piercing lucidity the impossibility of the apparently simple concept of ‘attending the dying’.

It is the way in which Friedman incorporates her horrific material that makes her books so special; in her work hell is what it is, but a straw of impossible humour that can be grasped ensures that laughter and tears merge on the page.

Carel Peeters, Vrij Nederland

The last story in particular reveals the great strength of Friedman’s calm, narrative style – free of metaphors and analytical commentary, but never dry.. it is shot through with restrained emotion.

Aleid Truijens, de Volkskrant

In each of these three stories love is a feeling which requires wisdom. These are stories that stay with you.

L. Oomens, Algemeen Dagblad

Friedman writes about the worst of human abominations without ever compromising her compassion or extinguishing her sense of hope ( .. ) A shocking and touching first novel.

Richard Burgin, The New York Times Book Review

Translations

Carl Friedman

Carl Friedman (b. 1952) worked as a newspaper journalist. She made her debut in 1991 with the novella Tralievader (Nightfather), which was hailed as a small masterpiece by readers and critics in the Netherlands, Germany and the United States. Next came the novel Twee koffers vol (Two Bagfuls, 1993…

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Details

De grauwe minnaar (1996). Fiction, 170 pages.
Copies sold: 11,000

Publisher

G.A. van Oorschot

Herengracht 613
NL - 1017 CE Amsterdam
The Netherlands
Tel: +31 20 623 14 84
Fax: +31 20 625 40 83

E-mail:
contact@vanoorschot.nl
Website:
http://www.vanoorschot.nl

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