The harrowing story of a man incapable of human contact
Stern is a tragic story, in some ways reminiscent of Louis Begley’s About Schmidt. The main character is a man forced to retire and make room for a new generation, who finds himself confronted with the emptiness of his existence.
Heerma van Voss describes the life of Hugo Stern, a man who has never succeeded in creating a bond with other people. An only child, he grows up alone with his mother. In one telling episode when he is a student in London, he befriends a Korean who never ever says anything – they go to the movies together and stare at the screen.
Back in the Netherlands, Stern marries. He and his wife have a baby who dies soon after birth and they adopt a Korean child, giving him the same forename. The story reaches a climax when the son, who has turned eighteen, wants to visit his native country.
Stern is torn by separation anxiety, the memory of his friend in London who never answered his letters, and his inability to press his child to his chest, all of which culminates in a heart-rending final scene at the airport. Stern is a moving, disturbing and witty novel.