Arnon Grunberg

The Asylum Seeker

A disturbing picture of modern man

Arnun Grunberg’s mad literary universe has become increasingly grim over the last few years. Whereas in the early novels tragedy chafed under humour, this now seems to be reversed. After Gstaad 95-98 (published under the pseudonym Marek van der Jagt), in which, to your horror, you have to admit that you feel sympathy for a totally loony, anally fixated child murderer, The Asylum Seeker again exerts the same kind of ‘guilty’ effect on the reader for his disgust and compassion.

Grunberg’s new novel is the story of the writer Christian Beck who in his work broached something that ‘should have remained untouched, an anger, you could even call it blind hate, probably unfounded and explosive in nature.’ This anger and hate frightened Beck so much that he decided to put down his pen and become a translator of operating instructions.

Beck lost faith not only in the power of writing but also in his own luck. He is a man without illusion and without feeling. He begins to feel that it is up to him to unmask self-deception; only the innocence of the woman he lives with whom he calls ‘Bird’ can touch him. They are well suited because Bird is inclined to bear the grief of the world on her frail shoulders. However much Beck wants to attach importance to innocence, Bird’s compassion can amaze him. This amazement becomes total when Bird finds out that she has a fatal disease and tells Beck that she wants to get officially married – not to him but to an asylum seeker.

There is a concrete reason for the fact that Beck is willing to put up with the humiliating charity of his wife and share the last part of her life with a complete stranger. One day Beck, who visited brothels daily, had stuck a screwdriver – accidentally – into a whore’s eye. When Beck told Bird, she flew into a rage, but didn’t leave him, hence earning his everlasting respect. Therefore he indulges all her wishes, her wish to marry an asylum seeker, and her wish to ‘learn to make goat’s cheese herself’ – until she dies.

With The Asylum Seeker Arnon Grunberg has again written a deadly book that plays satanically with prevailing social ideas. Yet the intentionally provocative title of his novel should not be taken literally since the asylum seeker character has too small a role. Also, Grunberg is no campaigner, he is a true writer, with a driving, repetitive style. Grunberg has given a disturbing picture of modern man who passionately wants to come home somewhere but seems to thrive nowhere.

The Asylum Seeker is an oppressive book (…) Meanwhile we readers are exceptionally lucky. Thank God. Arnon Grunberg is only 32.

De Groene Amsterdammer

We are lucky that this writer has been enriching the landscape of our literature for the past six years.


No less than a masterpiece.

Het Parool

One evening, after weeks of something like forty jars of vitamins and dozens of litres of strawberry juice, the bird asks: ‘Would you mind if I got married?’
In that marrying, Beck sees his enemy’s final victory. They were man and wife already, without having to get married.
‘Why?’ he asks. ‘Why get married? It’s been fine, it will keep being fine for years.’
‘Not to you,’ she says, ‘to someone else.’
Someone else, two words that pretty much sum up their relationship. It had cost him so much effort to learn to live with his wife that, after he had, he couldn’t live with anyone else. Not that he didn’t think about it, often in fact, but it seemed to be out of the question. He’d used up the facility to live with anyone for longer than a three-week vacation. Looking at him objectively, you’d have to conclude that he couldn’t live with himself either.


Arnon Grunberg

Arnon Grunberg (b. 1971) debuted at the age of 23 with the wry, humorous novel novel Blauwe maandagen (Blue Mondays, 1994), which brought him instant success. Some of his other titles are Figuranten (Silent Extras, 1997), De asielzoeker (The Asylum Seeker, 2003), De joodse messias (The Jewish…

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De asielzoeker (2003). Fiction, 352 pages.
Copies sold: 40,000

Sample translation

English (PDF document)


Nijgh & Van Ditmar

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

[email protected]

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Literary agent

Arnon Grunberg Agency

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