The Death of Mila Burger
Yearning for happiness
Already in the Prologue to De dood van Mila Burger (The Death of Mila Burger), the author has told us that calamity is always lurking in the wings and strikes when one is not expecting it. When Mila is still a child, her grandfather is ground to death in a centrifuge when a drunken colleague turns the wrong handle.
Mila grows up with her grandmother in the Russian city of Kazan in the latter years of the Soviet era. After a dreary university period, she meets Dutchman Nico Burger and decides to follow him to his homeland.
But after ten years she finds herself in a windy coastal town, with a dead-end job in domiciliary care, no children and a disillusioned, unemployed husband who humiliates her.
One day, her old friend Asja turns up at her rental apartment. Asja tells Mila that she has apparently stolen the heart of an eccentric millionaire, Romanovski, who has seen a photo of her. When Mila takes up Romanovski’s invitation to go to Moscow, she enters a world that, in terms of decadence, has many similarities with the late 19th century tsarism, including duels, serfs and landaus. From his masterly descriptions of the excesses at parties and in clubs, it is clear that the author is familiar with both the glitz and the less glamorous underbelly of Moscow.
Romanovski and Mila prefer to retire to a fairytale-like estate in the forest, where a new feudal age seems to have dawned. While Romanovski works on a comprehensive book on the Lipizzaner breed of horse, Mila attempts to liberate herself from her former life in the Netherlands. Their happy, secluded existence forms a fine contrast with the uprooted nouveau riche in Moscow, who are constantly seeking ever-greater extravagances. Their contentment appears to be complete when Mila becomes pregnant, but Romanovski’s shady past increasingly becomes a threat to their happiness. Fate eventually strikes and Mila is forced to begin all over again.
De dood van Mila Burger reads as a captivating classical tragedy, full of lascivious scenes and sentences. Waterdrinker is a master narrator who leads his characters to their demise while again demonstrating the power of a good story.