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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Het aapje dat geluk pakt

Arnon Grunberg

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

Title: Het aapje dat geluk pakt
Author: Arnon Grunberg
Genre: Novel
Written: 2004
Length: 87 pages
Original in: Dutch
Availability: Le Bonheur attrapé par un singe - France
Gnadenfrist - Deutschland
  • Het aapje dat geluk pakt has not yet been translated into English

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Our Assessment:

B+ : effective if underdeveloped tale

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 18/3/2006 Martin Halter
Neue Zürcher Zeitung . 5/8/2006 Hans Christian Kosler
Die Welt . 30/4/2006 Susanne Kunckel

  From the Reviews:
  • "Arnon Grünberg gibt keine Erklärungen für das Unbegreifliche, weder politische Rechtfertigungen noch psychologische Begründungen. Mit lakonischer Kälte, hie und da gemildert durch sanfte Ironie und absurden Humor, schildert er den Höllensturz eines arrivierten Diplomaten." - Martin Halter, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "Die Geiselnahme in Lima hat 1996 tatsächlich stattgefunden. Für Grünberg aber liefert sie nur die Kulisse für den seelischen und moralischen Verfall seines Helden, den er voll Mitgefühl und Witz auf seinem Höllentrip begleitet." - Susanne Kunckel, Die Welt

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Het aapje dat geluk pakt ('The monkey that grabs happiness') is the story of the number two man in the Dutch embassy in Peru in the mid-1990s, Jean-Baptist Warnke, muddling along happily enough with his wife and his two young daughters. Sure, occasionally everything seems so wonderfully picture-perfect that he can't help but fantasize about stuffing his two daughters in a sack weighted down with stones and drowning them like kittens, but that's only a momentary disturbance in the idyll that is his family-life; he couldn't really do that (but, yeah, he can't quite keep the idea from popping into his mind every now and then).
       Work isn't too challenging, the boss not too demanding, and Warnke likes dropping in at the local Café El Corner, where he can peruse the latest (if still a week or two out of date) issue of Newsweek. One day he is approached by a young woman, Malena. She is observant -- she's noticed that he's a regular who likes to read Newsweek -- he, not so much. Soon -- though only gradually -- everything in his life changes.
       Warnke isn't looking for an easy affair, but he is drawn to Malena and finds himself completely taken by her soon enough. The fact that frequently when they go to her place she asks him for just one small favor -- to mail a package -- doesn't strike him as suspicious in the least. He's not a curious man, or perhaps he prefers not to look too closely at anything, whether the local misery around him, or who exactly Malena might be.
       Each in their way is passionate. And as Christmas approaches Malena gives him a friendly suggestion: skip that party at the Japanese embassy she tells him. Firmly.
       At least he listens -- but even when the TV reports start coming in, of that (very real) 1996 hostage crisis that would go on for some four months -- he's a bit reluctant to put two and two together. Even when, just then, Malena drops out of sight and he doesn't know where he can find her.
       Warnke advised the ambassador to skip the party too, and the bosses in Den Haag do inquire why no Dutch representatives were there; Warnke's explanation -- it was just pure, dumb luck -- only satisfies them for so long. When the crisis is resolved, however, Warnke's crisis is just beginning: in quick succession he loses his job and then his family. But he remains in Peru, first in a daze, and then with a purpose -- the story closing with Warnke taking rather dramatic action.
       What Grunberg paints is, in part a transformation, but, as in several of his other novels -- notably Tirza -- also a character coming into his own, on a foundation that has always been there. Warnke is a gentle man, but that small part of him that can imagine drowning his daughters like kittens (and no, that's not what he winds up doing) has always been there, always been part of him. When circumstances change radically enough, when possibilities of happiness and being satisfied with who one is and what one has done in life suddenly appear in a very different light ... well, Grunberg suggests, then another side can come to the fore.
       Het aapje dat geluk pakt works well enough and the story unfolds quite effectively, but it's little more than a novella, and the depths -- the human abyss -- Grunberg explores here need more of a foundation and more development. It needs the bulk of works like Tirza and Onze oom -- for which this work almost seems like a practice-piece. Still, it's a fine and disturbing little story, and well-presented.

- M.A.Orthofer, 13 September 2012

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Het aapje dat geluk pakt: Reviews: Arnon Grunberg: Other books by Arnon Grunberg under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Dutch literature at the complete review

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About the Author:

       Dutch author Arnon Grunberg was born in 1971 and has won numerous literary prizes.

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© 2012-2023 the complete review

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