Nine Open Arms

It is the end of August 1937, nine people – father, grandmother, four sons and three daughters – leave for what seems to be the end of the world: Sjlammbams Sahara, a place outside the safe walls of the city. Father is a man who does all kinds of odd jobs and none of them well but he is hopeful and full of love. Grandmother courageously carries her bag made from crocodile leather full of pictures and stories.

Benny Lindelauf

The love and stories form the only richness of a family that keeps getting poorer. Because the living room of the new house is as long as nine open arms, the sisters baptize it ‘nine open arms’. It sounds like a hug but soon it is obvious that that the house offers so little protection against all kinds of disaster that reality cannot be embellished by dreams and stories.

The book consists of three parts, each with its own tone and rhythm. The first part is a detailed story about the relationships between the members of the family and the grim circumstances in which they survive. The book regularly moves ahead of the actual events. Because of this, fragments of stories come up which later turn out to be part of a bigger context.

Part two is about the tragic love history belonging to the house. It has the cadence and tension build-up of an oral story. In part three, a regular shifting to a higher or lower gear accentuates the entanglement of the different histories and of the present and the past. Grandmother had always determined which stories where to be heard.

After a conflict with her granddaughter she exposes which ones were silenced and which ones were lies. By continually making ever-smaller nuances, Lindelauf shows how relative the truth is and how vulnerable the person who does or does not rely on it blindly.

The whole story is larded with words and expressions in dialect because not only your territory but also your language is a validation of who you are and where you belong. Just like stories do: ‘Much can be told about a person’s life. Everybody’s story is attached to other people’s stories through tiny threads’.

'Nine Open Arms' is an astutely structured book with strong character portrayal. It is also beautifully written, with quickfire dialogues and clear imagery.

Dagblad van het Noorden

One of the best books to appear this year.

Noord Hollands Dagblad

One of the best stories I’ve ever read, unusually heart-warming, in an exceptionally clever and distinctive style, and in language to revel in. 'Nine Open Arms' is written with great warmth, love of life, and infectious humour.

De Morgen
Benny Lindelauf
Benny Lindelauf (b. 1964) writes theatre texts and children’s books that stand out for their narrative power and stylistic mastery.
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