A brilliant and bestselling historical novel by the author of Gewassen vlees
Publieke werken is written in a florid style, highly appropriate to the historical period of its setting: the late 19th century. Rosenboom‘s stately prose lends to his novels that slow-moving tempo so essential to their effectiveness, it is this tempo with which the plot unfolds which enables the reader to see disaster coming long before the novel ends, making you want to call out to the characters, to warn them that they are making a terrible mistake.
In Publieke werken it is the violin-maker Vedder and his nephew Anijs, a country pharmacist, who walk into the trap of their own making, their eyes wide open. Vedder reads in the newspaper that a hotel is to be built on the land his house stands on, just opposite the new Amsterdam Central Station, and thinks he has an excellent bargaining position with regard to the company developer. But the price Vedder asks is too high and his sole negotiating technique is to keep repeating his asking price.
The neighbour is not the only one bound to fall into the same trap. Anijs has managed to persuade Vedder to invest the money in an emigration project which offers a group of peat cutters a new future in America. The pharmacist has developed a soft spot for them, and they have come to regard Anijs as a saviour. He gets so caught up in this role that he goes beyond the bounds of professionalism and performs surgery, arousing the anger of the local doctor. The blind trust which Vedder has in his negotiating position, and which Anijs has in his role as good doer, have distrastrous results when the sale of the house in the end falls through. Everything collapses like a house of cards.
Publieke werken illustrates the premise from the Book of Ecclesiastes that all is vanity. Vedder and Anijs will not see the world as it really is, and will not face the fact that they are much less important than they are able to bear. Rosenboom unforgettably succeeds in evoking a world which bred belief in progress, social involvement and trust in technology and science. At the beginning of the twenty-first century we have come to learn some of the disastrous effects of these beliefs.