Death in Taormina

In his sixteenth novel, Arnon Grunberg returns to the preoccupations of his early work, featuring chaotic, self-destructive, non-conformist types and compulsive runaways, people who treat life as a game, raising the stakes in each new round. 'Death in Taormina' takes place in the world of opera and theatre, a world in which the protagonist Zelda becomes entangled in a fatal game between reality and fiction.

Original title
De dood in Taormina
Arnon Grunberg

Zelda is a young woman in her mid-twenties, the product of an unsettled childhood, shuttling back and forth between divorced parents. For a while she works as a ‘decoy’ for a youth gang, drawing in older men who are then robbed by gang. Eventually, on promising her father to no longer play so fast-and-loose with life, she takes a job as production assistant to an opera director.

In the second of the novel’s five parts, this absurdist coming-of-age story slowly morphs into an account of a crazy love triangle. Zelda grows fascinated by Jona, a much older, successful actor whose life is nothing short of bizarre. He tells her that he is his mother’s ex-lover, that he’s an insomniac and that he’s been driven from his home and has been living as a ‘tramp of the well-off variety’ ever since. Lost souls both, Zelda and Jona hanker after adventure. They become friends with Per, a young playwright from Stockholm who ‘wanted to grow old as quickly as possible and get to know evil’. With him, they travel to Taormina, in Sicily, for the book’s apotheosis: Per drowns Zelda in the bathtub after which she continues her story in a voice-over from the grave.

Death in Taormina is an ironic, provocative novel in which life is like a stage play. There is a touch of Jules et Jim about it, and it nods to Antigone and Thomas Mann.

In every paragraph, we see Arnon Grunberg at his best.

Het Parool

Vintage Grunberg.

De Groene Amsterdammer
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 Messiah, 2004), 'Moedervlekken' (Birthmarks, 2016) and 'Goede mannen' (Good Men, 2018).
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