Henk van Straten

Ernest Hemingway Is Cancelled

A book full of zeitgeist and humour about the fall of the white man

It’s difficult for some people in this day and age to do the right thing and not keep hurting others, even if that wasn’t their intention. Van Straten ventures into a minefield from which no one escapes unscathed. A powerful novel about masculinity, fatherhood and depression, but also about current hot-button issues such as #MeToo, gender, racism and social prejudice.

‘When Julio Iglesias and I walked home from the pharmacy on my fortieth birthday under a hopeful and therefore dishonest spring sun, I saw two men waiting outside my front door who would end up being indirectly responsible for my being sentenced to twelve years in prison, to be followed by a period of detention in a psychiatric hospital.’ The very first sentence of the book sets the tone: things will not end well for our nameless narrator, a photography curator in a modern-art museum who is struggling with an identity crisis and on antidepressants. His successful ex-wife continues to hound him, meddling in his difficult relationship with their teenage son and disapproving of everything he says and does.

He also gets into trouble at work, where his photography exhibition about Ernest Hemingway is shut down because the woke female museum director, who is one-eighth Indonesian, considers Hemingway to be the epitome of the morally reprehensible white macho. To make matters worse, a brief fling with an eighteen-year-old comes back to haunt him: when she accuses him of sexual intimidation, he ends up losing his job.

The protagonist grows more and more confused. But then a pragmatic roofer comes over with his son to fix a leak, and ends up taking him under his wing and trying to help him get his life back on track. The roofer looks after the whining Doberman – ‘Julio Iglesias’, from before – that the protagonist doesn’t know how to handle, is able to effortlessly communicate with his reticent teenage son, and takes both of them along to a medieval sword-fighting class that is supposed to promote resilience but ultimately smacks of fascism.

Caught between political correctness gone mad on the one hand and conspiracy theorists and right-wing extremists on the other, the protagonist careens toward his downfall, until he finally ends up in prison after being convicted of murdering – with his medieval wooden sword, no less – a hooligan who threatened him. But it is in this solitary, male-only environment that his journey toward redemption begins and he finds peace after becoming a Zen Buddhist.

Henk van Straten writes masterfully about self-destruction, fear and the sense of not fitting into today’s society, in which many subjects seem to have become taboo. The result is a story that is at turns grim, funny and moving.

Much of the current social discourse finds its way into the novel, and Van Straten describes it attentively and with enough sharpness of touch to make these into gripping episodes. Using exactly the right register, he convincingly portrays a talk-show discussion about racism that touches on all the various arguments and keenly conveys the pain that underlies the debate.

NRC Handelsblad

Van Straten’s great strength is his portrayal of the personal, of individual suffering – of his protagonist’s strengths and weaknesses, his humanity and his interactions with others.

NRC Handelsblad

This is not just a novel about urgent issues, but also one that explicitly takes inventory of the values of the white man, the most criticised species of our time.


Henk van Straten

Henk van Straten (b. 1980) is an author, columnist and journalist. He previously wrote the novel Bidden en vallen (Praying and Falling, 2015) and two memoirs: Wij zeggen hier niet halfbroer (We Don’t Say Half-Brother Here, which won the 2018 Best Book for Young People award) and Berichten uit het

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Ernest Hemingway is gecanceld (2020). Fiction, 288 pages.
Words: 79,824


Nijgh & Van Ditmar

Weteringschans 259
NL - 1017 XJ Amsterdam
The Netherlands
Tel: +31 20 760 72 10

[email protected]

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