An adventure novel about two intellectual brothers with a fateful predilection for the past
The greatest tragedy in the lives of the two brothers Edmund and Sieger van Zeeland, is that they were born in the wrong century. In every other way, they are privileged: intelligent, gallant men who need no one but themselves. They both stumble into adventures that put their self-sufficiency to the test.
The story opens in Malta, where Edmund, a millionaire, delights in the historic buildings. His motto is a quote from John Banville: ‘The past beats inside me like a second heart.’ He has come to the island nation in search of Sarie, his brother Sieger’s wife, who works as a costume designer on a historical TV drama.
Edmund hopes that she’ll point him to the whereabouts of his missing brother Sieger, but meanwhile, he finds himself nearly falling in love with her. He follows her to Spain and Cuba and buys his way onto the series as an extra. This cinematic adventure comes to an abrupt end when, due to Edmund’s actions, the star of the show has a serious accident that brings the filming to a halt.
Sieger works as a magazine reporter. After the death of his boss and mentor Willem Verdelius, he feels less comfort able than ever with the changing priorities of the editorial staff. Dismayed by the changes, he complains, ‘Why doesn’t anyone want to write about majorities anymore? Lord knows there are a lot more of those.’ As everyone is searching for him, he goes to Berlin, where he witnesses an attack on a notorious Russian politician and art collector. Sieger’s investigation of the Russian’s role takes him to Ukraine, where he finds a scoop he doesn’t want to share with anyone.
Like Joost de Vries’s earlier work, Old Masters is an effervescent cocktail of satire and suspense. But in this novel, he adds a tragic note: the main characters’ nostalgic yearnings are constantly tripping them up in the modern world. To make things worse, they seem unable to empathise with others or feel connected to some higher power. These failings are brought home to them by the women in their life.
In a highly entertaining and moving style, Joost de Vries describes the experi ence of the white male intellectual whose relevance can no longer be taken for granted.