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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Lost Paradise

Cees Nooteboom

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To purchase Lost Paradise

Title: Lost Paradise
Author: Cees Nooteboom
Genre: Novel
Written: 2004 (Eng. 2007)
Length: 150 pages
Original in: Dutch
Availability: Lost Paradise - US
Lost Paradise - UK
Lost Paradise - Canada
Perdu le paradis - France
Paradies verloren - Deutschland
  • Dutch title: Paradijs verloren
  • Translated by Susan Massotty

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Our Assessment:

A- : pleasing, far-flung gossamer tale

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 19/10/2005 Gerhard Schulz
Neue Zürcher Zeitung . 23/8/2005 Roman Bucheli
New Statesman . 12/7/2007 Alyssa McDonald
The NY Rev. of Books . 6/3/2008 J.M.Coetzee
The NY Times Book Rev. . 9/12/2007 Tom Barbash
The Washington Post A+ 4/11/2007 Jennifer Vanderbes
World Literature Today . 3/2006 Jose Lanters
Die Zeit . 11/8/2005 Jochen Jung

  From the Reviews:
  • "Aber obwohl der Kern des Buchs nicht eben originell ist, bringt es einer von den alten Herrschaften der Literatur immerhin fertig, einen Roman zu schreiben, den man mit Neugier und Spannung zu Ende liest. "A good read", wie man in Australien sagen würde." - Gerhard Schulz, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "Calling a novel Lost Paradise invites a daunting comparison, but Cees Nooteboom has the reputation and the chutzpah to lay down a few gauntlets of this sort.() Appearing as a character at the end of the novel, Nooteboom presents the completed work as his own lost paradise, validating his self-aggrandisement and adding an extra facet to an intriguing conceit." - Alyssa McDonald, New Statesman

  • "Through his fable Nooteboom may well be suggesting that the hunger of the soul does not require direct experience of the transcendent to be satisfied, that complicity in an aesthetic illusion can take the soul surprisingly far. (...) As if to remedy the thinness of the stories of Erik and Alma, Nooteboom embeds them between a substantial prologue and epilogue in which his elegant, subtle intelligence finds more room to flex its wings. (...) Susan Massotty's translation of Lost Paradise reads fluently. Some of that fluency comes, however, at the cost of precision." - J.M.Coetzee, The New York Review of Books

  • "Nooteboom (...) uses earthbound notions of hell and paradise, a few lines from Milton and an angel or two to construct a story of two people who meet at a literary festival in Perth, then again years later across a massage table at a mountain spa. Along the way, he brazenly explores notions of reinvention, healing, loss and the divine." - Tom Barbash, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Nooteboom's characters are gripping, his dialogue humorous and his narrative brimming with musings about identity and redemption. His genius, however, is his seamless integration of contemporary, mythic and historic images." - Jennifer Vanderbes, The Washington Post

  • "Nooteboom tupft mit diesen Zitaten ebenso wie mit ein paar anderen noch ein paar Glanzlichter auf die Flügel seiner Engel, und er weiß, wie man das macht. Vielleicht wird man das alles nicht über Jahre im Kopf bewahren, aber das Bild vom Engel Alma, der in Perth in Australien in einem Schrank mit dem Gesicht zur Wand liegt und darauf wartet, entdeckt zu werden, das wird man nicht vergessen." - Jochen Jung, Die Zeit

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:

       There are two main characters in Lost Paradise: Dutch literary critic Erik Zondag and the young Brazilian woman Alma. Nooteboom intersects their very separate lives in an unusual and feathery-light (at least on some levels) novel of fate and paradise. And angels.
       Alma and her friend Almut leave Brazil after Alma drives her car, as if in a daze, into a very bad neighbourhood and quickly finds herself -- as she chose to falsify it for herself -- "enveloped by a black cloud", everything stripped from her: "They had not bothered to kill her, but had simply left her behind as if she were rubbish." The more adventurous and orderly Almut is an appropriate companion to then head out into the world with. They take a course in physical therapy massage so they'll have a skill that is marketable everywhere and don't have to fall back on waitressing and the like. They head to Australia, where Alma looks for some escape in the dreamtime world of the aborigines; later Alma also winds up in Austria.
       Zondag, meanwhile, is a fairly dissatisfied writer, stuck the past "twenty years in the rarefied atmosphere of the literary supplement". He's not so much an author as a part of the literary "clean-up crew", who had gotten his permanent position at his newspaper by making: "quite a name for himself by taking potshots at a few literary giants" . Indeed, there's quite a bit of criticism of the Dutch literary establishment in the novel -- including a swipe at the old grandees of Dutch literature, that Nooteboom-fellow among them ..... Zondag doesn't like what's become of the literary world -- "Literature had become a career" is one of his complaints -- and then:

All that mediocrity week after week seemed to cling to his hair and creep under his nails.
       Alma and Zondag's paths cross, in unlikely ways, first in Australia, where Alma has gotten a job as a hidden angel (in something between performance art and tourist game), and then in Austria, when Zondag goes on a Kur. It sounds almost perfectly ridiculous -- even more so in the details -- and yet it's also truly audacious. Nooteboom weaves a surprisingly intricate but still ever so light-feeling tale here, the narrative moving back and forth between the two characters (and from first to third person too), sometimes describing the seemingly mundane with a great deal of precision, other times offering only general impressions. It's occasionally dizzying, especially in its reach across continents and shifts in voice and character, but it also pulls the reader in.
       Throughout the angelic themes, and paradise (and paradise lost) also figure, but even when he literally transforms Alma into an angel he knows exactly how to handle it to avoid it becoming too ridiculous. Stuffed in a cupboard, her face turned to the wall: it's an almost absurd situation, but both her and Zondag's reactions to it are convincing.
       Lost Paradise is remarkable in its combination of realism and its almost spiritual flights of fancy. Nooteboom is both a very attentive and imaginative writer, and he uses his talents to very good effect here. From the Prologue-chapter, in which the first-person narrator is flying to Berlin and gives a short précis of where he's been and what he's done -- subtly foreshadowing what's to come later in the book -- Nooteboom already lets the reader see what to expect: the descriptions seem straightforward enough, even the author's curiosity about the book an attractive woman sitting a row ahead of him is reading. He can't catch a glimpse the title until they've almost landed, when he sees the two words:
     It's this book, a book out of which she is about to disappear, along with me.
       The playfulness and the games work, and while Lost Paradise feels (and reads) like a very light work, it lingers satisfyingly, a small but surprisingly sating morsel.

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Lost Paradise: Reviews: Cees Nooteboom:
  • Other books by Cees Nooteboom under review: Other books of interest under review:
    • See Index of Dutch literature

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    About the Author:

           Dutch author Cees Nooteboom was born in 1933. He is a poet, novelist, and travel writer.

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