A magical novel full of ideas and thrilling adventures beyond time and space, culminating in a poetic ode to life and to love
It’s one of the oldest themes in literature: how to relate to death and to our own mortality. Writing another meaningful, let alone original, book on the subject is no easy task. However, Marco Kunst’s latest young-adult novel proves that it most certainly can be done.
The driving force behind this story is the eternal struggle between head and heart, religion and science, and the question, still relevant today, of how much good it does us to wish to control our lives and our time. The protagonists are the respected doctor Zacherias Kroonsz, who is obsessed with death, and his 17-year-old son, Wessel. We find ourselves in Amsterdam, on the eve of the Enlightenment, an age when there was significant tension between the desire for knowledge and the traditional conception of God, when philosophers such as Descartes and Spinoza wrestled with the incomprehensible nature of time, the inevitability of death and the question of what comes after that.
Kunst writes vividly, presenting a convincing portrait of the era and effortlessly transporting the reader to 17th-century Amsterdam, when the nearby presence of the sea could still be felt and the city was expanding so rapidly that it was straining at the seams.
The book takes a distinctly sinister turn when, grief-stricken after his wife’s death, Kroonsz uses lenses to build a “chronoscope” that shows time as “a lattice of lifelines”, predicting the date of everyone’s death, including his own. Driven by his fear of death, Kroonsz manipulates time. He creates a hole in the fabric of reality – an ingenious notion – and transforms into something like Frankenstein’s monster.
Of course, that hole, “the Rip”, has to be closed. To do so, Kunst cleverly weaves together the storylines of Kroonsz and Wessel with those of Pink and Bor, two authentic young 21st-century characters, who bring a breath of fresh air to the story. Operating on the principle that “time is merely a tool of the imagination”, Kunst symbolically merges past and present in a dazzling, poetic final scene, singing the praises of the invisible coherence of the universe and the strength of love.