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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Leon de Winter

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Title: Geronimo
Author: Leon de Winter
Genre: Novel
Written: 2015
Length: 362 pages
Original in: Dutch
Availability: Geronimo - Deutschland
  • Geronimo has not yet been translated into English

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Our Assessment:

C : something of a premise shaped into a far too sappy thriller

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
NRC . 1/5/2015 Arjen Fortuin
Trouw . 10/5/2015 Rob Schouten
Die Welt . 26/8/2016 Dirk Schümer

  From the Reviews:
  • "Over de literaire ambities van het boek kunnen we kort zijn. Alles staat ten dienste van de spanning die De Winter aanjaagt met daden van oorlog en terreur, tot er amper nog een hoofdpersoon in leven is. (...) Geronimo is het best te verteren als je meegaat in het bizarre genot dat komt kijken bij het verzinnen van een goed complot." - Arjen Fortuin, NRC

  • "Dit is regelrechte pulp, onvermengde kitsch en je krijgt het gevoel dat De Winter het erom doet. Geen effect wordt onbenut gelaten: UBL is een slechterik met sentimenten, Tom de nobele heros, Apana een soort culturele Malala (.....) Geronimo dus, titel van een boek dat ik alleen kan verklaren als script voor een echte C-film." - Rob Schouten, Trouw

  • "Irgendwann jedenfalls wird auch dieser realistische Agentenroman zum Märchen voller fabelhafter Wendungen. Der Autor stützt die Sphäre von Tausendundeiner Nacht mit dichten Beschreibungen von Armut und Dreck, Frömmigkeit und Gewürzdüften in pakistanischen Städten. Die Hoffnung, dass diese chaotische und übervölkerte Lebenswelt mit ein paar technisch hochgerüsteten Soldaten verändert werden könnte, erledigt De Winter ganz nebenbei." - Dirk Schümer, 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:

       Geronimo is a thriller that boasts a highbrow structure -- Bach's Goldberg Variations, of all things: thirty-two chapters, with the opening and closing ones entirely in dialogue, exactly a year apart -- the defining aria, as it were. The thirty chapters in between don't fill in the year between the conversations; instead they jump back to events beginning in September 2010, proceeding chronologically from there -- with a brief sidestep of three chapters that are set slightly earlier.
       The conversations bookending the novel are between Tom Johnson and his former wife. Tom is the narrator for much of the novel, too, but after the introductory conversation it shifts to an omniscient narrator for a while, beginning with a scene in Abbottabad, Pakistan, where Usama bin Laden -- 'UBL' as de Winter insists on calling him -- is celebrating the anniversary of 11 September. UBL is very pleased with himself: he has a USB stick with a video and seven photographs on it -- material that is very damaging to another famous person: American president Barack Obama. As he apparently regularly does, UBL heads out to the local store on his moped, to pick up some ice cream and cigarettes. He takes some precautions but is not too worried about being recognized.
       On this night he comes across a beggar girl, Apana, who is missing both hands. He considers killing her, a dangerous eyewitness who surely recognized him, but instead he takes her home on his moped and keeps her around the house, finding her some sort of soulmate or innocent ideal, filling a role his wives can't. So while we don't learn much of their time together -- only a few months -- he didn't defile her (his erstwhile Taliban colleagues having already seen to that, complete with lopping off her hands and ears), but, for example, would take her out on joyrides on his moped .....
       Apana connects several of the characters. She was the daughter of a local Tom worked with, and visited the base he was stationed at in Afghanistan -- where she discovered the Goldberg Variations, music that completely enraptured her and which she can never get enough of. When her father is killed, Tom -- whose own daughter died tragically (but not immediately) as the result of yet another terrorist attack (the Madrid train bombings) -- wants to ensure she has a future, but before he can arrange anything she is taken by the Taliban. After she escaped from them a Christian boy living in Abbottabad, Jabbar, befriended her and, after the raid that ostensibly kills UBL leaves her essentially on the street again, he convinces his widowed mother to take her in.
       Central to the novel is the May 2011 raid on the compound where UBL was holed up -- and de Winter's twist is that it was faked. Suspicious that the powers that be seem so intent on Osama being killed rather than captured the team that goes in goes rogue and fakes UBL's death while spiriting him away. Readers know why orders from on high are to kill Osama: because he knows something about the American president that would destroy him. With UBL remaining alive there are now two threats: the man himself, and that USB stick, which he hid -- and which, rather ridiculously, of course winds up in the hands of Jabbar -- not that Jabbar is even remotely aware of its existence, much less its value, at first.
       As if things weren't messy enough, they get even more complicated. Authorities get wise to the fact that maybe someone has UBL squirreled away someplace, and suddenly those involved in the raid on Abbottabad -- some of whom Tom knows -- start winding up dead. And suddenly there are parties interested in the missing USB stick, making a great effort to find it -- which inevitably leads them to Jabbar, and Apana. Luckily, Tom has been looking for Apana, and he gets to her and Jabbar just in time to bring them to some safety. Of course, American immigration policy and bureaucracy being what it is, Tom knows there's a lot of paperwork to do before he might be able to get them stateside, so he goes off to try to deal with that ..... Things do not work out well.
       Geronimo is a messy thriller, and fairly offensive alternate-history. The end result leaves us, by a very different route, with the same real-world outcome: Osama bin Laden has been killed, and the president's secret is safe -- but in framing it like this the suggestion remains that Barack Obama harbors a devastating personal secret. (What the secret is isn't ever actually explicitly spelled out -- but de Winter does everything but: the dots barely need connecting; regrettably, it plays into the far-too widespread American attempts at undermining Obama with canards about his birthplace, background, and identity in general. (Note that the very conservative de Winter has always been suspicious, and highly critical, of Obama -- see for example his notorious (German) piece from Die Welt Barack Obama, ein knallharter Opportunist and, for example, this (English) summary.) Part of what makes this so troubling, too, is how very much Obama remains an entirely shadowy presence in the novel: even UBL is humanized, while Obama is represented as nothing but pure evil.
       Offensive politics aside, the other problem with Geronimo is that it is a sappy mess. De Winter's premise has some promise -- Osama bin Laden alive ! devastating information about the US president ! -- but he tangles himself up in his storylines -- and insists on a maudlin twist wherever possible (what with Tom's daughter's tragic death (which turns out to be even more horrifically tragic than first imagined, as revealed in the dreadful final chapter, a heart-to-heart Tom has with his former wife), Apana's stumps, the power of music, etc.) and a rather simplistic Muslim v. Judeo-Christian split (of course Jabbar is Christian; of course that's a problem ...; of course the Israeli secret service also gets to play an important role ....).
       Even all that could possibly be forgiven if the story were presented better, but de Winter bogs down even in immigration issues, while much of the action is predicated on the entirely far-fetched and implausible. Sure, there's a fair amount of decent excitement along the way -- but even here de Winter weighs down far too much of it with layers of sap, as well as a particular political message. Trying for some sort of seriousness with the characters' music-passion -- you've never come across this many people with CDs of the Goldberg Variations -- it also feels far too forced.
       Geronimo isn't so much a thriller that goes off the rails as one that never got on them. De Winter's writing chops make for some decent scenes -- including the early ones of UBL in hiding (indeed, the UBL scenes throughout are the best thing about the novel) -- but too often he tries way too hard for way too much. Apana's stumps where her hands were cut off sum up the novel pretty well: de Winter seems to be trying to work with the limited hooks she straps on in their place, his usual dexterity and firm hand lost over most of this weird thriller.

- M.A.Orthofer, 21 September 2016

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Geronimo: Reviews: Leon de Winter: Other books by Leon de Winter under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Dutch author Leon de Winter was born in 1954.

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© 2016-2021 the complete review

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