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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

God's Gym

Leon de Winter

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To purchase God's Gym

Title: God's Gym
Author: Leon de Winter
Genre: Novel
Written: 2002 (Eng. 2009)
Length: 370 pages
Original in: Dutch
Availability: God's Gym - US
God's Gym - UK
God's Gym - Canada
Malibu - France
Malibu - Deutschland
  • Dutch title: God's Gym
  • Translated by Jeannette K. Ringold

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Our Assessment:

B : decent, entertaining mix of a novel, but tries to do too much

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 17/3/2003 Jörg Magenua
Publishers Weekly . 10/8/2009 .
Tablet  . 6/10/2009 Adam Kirsch
Die Welt . 1/2/2003 Tilman Krause

  From the Reviews:
  • "Ein Autor, der sein Buch mit einem Blick auf die Erde vom Weltraum aus vor dreihundert Millionen Jahren beginnt, macht es sich schwer, die Bedeutung einer kleinen, alltäglichen Geschichte zu begründen. Was ist schon ein Terrorist gegenüber der Kontinentaldrift ? De Winter schlägt gerade aus dieser Diskrepanz seine Spannungsfunken. Er ist ein versierter Handwerker und weiß, wie sich Spannung und Sentimentalität erzeugen lassen.(...) Das ist letztlich banal, aber immerhin flott erzählt." - Jörg Magenua, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "(A) slick, entertaining import with the soul of an American thriller-fantasy. (...) Readers who don't mind swallowing their disbelief should find this imaginative caper propulsive." - Publishers Weekly

  • "To say that the way de Winter ties together all these strands of plot is improbable is no real criticism of God's Gym. Thrillers are supposed to be contrived and improbable, just as sonnets are supposed to rhyme. In a sense, however, God's Gym is injured by its own ambition, its desire to shoehorn serious thoughts about faith and suffering into a genre novel. (...) But even so, God's Gym is an entertaining and unusual book, which ought to introduce Leon de Winter to the wider American readership he deserves." - Adam Kirsch, Tablet

  • "Doch nicht immer gewinnt, wer etwas wagt. Bei soviel Befrachtung kann es nicht erstaunen, dass dem Autor, je mehr der Roman voranschreitet, die Beherrschung über die vielen Fäden, die er knüpft, zunehmend entgleitet. (...) So elegant auch Malibu wieder geschrieben ist, so faszinierend dieser Roman beginnt und so verführerisch sein Plot anmutet: Letztlich scheitert der Autor an Sinnhuberei, verfängt sich im Dickicht der Verweisschilder, die er aufstellt." - Tilman Krause, 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:

       Leon de Winter certainly packs it in in God's Gym. A Prologue sets the stage for the events of 22 December 2000, beginning with the geological foundations from hundreds of millions of years ago to the 1984 California earthquake that damaged a truck and caused it to henceforth leak oil to the people and specific circumstances that led to a traffic accident that day. The sum of all of it was why Mirjam Koopman, just seventeen, was thrown from the back of a motorcycle and died shortly thereafter of her injuries.
       The book centres mainly around her father, Joop, a screenwriter who hasn't had much success recently. But the prologue, laying out the facts, -- as well as an epilogue, again looking at the connexions surrounding the accident -- is penned by a huge black man, Erroll Washington, who was driving the motorcycle and survived the crash unharmed. Devasted by the accident, Erroll sells his business, God's Gym (his nickname is 'God'), and devotes himself to atoning by helping Joop. But Joop isn't that sure he wants help, especially from God ... eh, Erroll.
       Erroll's complete self-sacrifice does ultimately help Joop, who doesn't have many friends to turn to. (His wife left him many years earlier, returning to Holland.) Among Joop's few friends is one from his past who has suddenly shown up, Philip, who now works for the Israeli ministry of defense -- a spy, more or less. Philip wants to enlist Joop's help, because there's someone he's interested in, and Joop might be just the guy to get close to him. The figure in question is Omar, a dedicated Dutch Islamist of Moroccan descent currently living in Los Angeles; Philip figures he misses Holland and that he'd strike up a relationship with anyone who speaks the language and shares the background (and he's right).
       Both Erroll and Philip are, each in their own way, far more omnipotent beings than most. The physically huge Erroll, bankrolled (for a while) with the money from the sale of his business has the contacts to be a real fixer, helping Joop with some smaller and larger problems. Philip, meanwhile, has his eyes (and those of his organisation) squarely on Omar, and when Joop becomes part of that picture also becomes a sort of watchful figure. Joop, meanwhile, isn't so much a chesspiece moved around by others but rather ricochets unpredictably around.
       Joop doesn't do quite what Philip asked, but winds up befriending Omar anyway -- and even hitches a ride up the coast with him (finding quite a few books about the Golden Gate bridge in the back of the truck, though Joop is simply not enough of the suspicious sort to think much of that ...). Joop has his own agenda, though in his grief-stricken state he's not always clear what he wants. Among the things he sets his mind on is finding out who received his daughter's heart (it was transplanted after the accident); needless to say, his search (and even the recipient) play a role in the complications that follow.
       De Winter has an easygoing style, and builds the story up slowly but effectively, introducing more background in the flashbacks to earlier in Joop's life and career. Joop isn't quite hapless, but he's rarely and barely in control (as opposed to Philip, who always appears to have everything firmly in hand). The beautiful daughter also comes alive in the scenes from earlier in their lives.
       Yes, it's all well built up and presented. With a touch of quirkiness (the huge Erroll), the book has a very John Irving feel to it. It's slightly more political than Irving cares to be, and the Jewish question(s) are seen from more of a European-Israeli perspective than an American one, but it would likely appeal to his readers.
       And yet it's not entirely satisfactory. De Winter tries a bit too hard, the artful construction wanting so much to convey something meaningful (yes, it's a book about fate and chance, and de Winter won't let you forget it). And while there's something appealing about how understated aspects of it are, the one -- terrorist Omar -- just feels odd in a book that takes place shortly before the September 2001 attacks in New York and Washington D.C.. And the need for attention-grabbing ideas -- his daughter's transplanted heart, a million-dollar inheritance (a truly bizarre touch) -- feel too forced.
       God's Gym is a good read, but doesn't live up to (or handle) all its ambition.

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God's Gym: Reviews: Leon de Winter: Other books by Leon de Winter under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Dutch literature

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About the Author:

       Dutch author Leon de Winter was born in 1954.

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