Shannon Geiger, July 16, 2009 (view all comments by Shannon Geiger)
Joseph O'Neill uses lush language and knowledge of both New York and how people from other countries see it to create a beautiful story. The images he presents in this book stay with you long after you finish it. The comparisons to The Great Gatsby are warranted and accurate.
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Wendy Robards, April 8, 2009 (view all comments by Wendy Robards)
The protagonist of Joseph O’Neill’s latest novel is Hans, a wealthy banker living in the Chelsea Hotel in post-911 New York City. Rachel, Hans’ conflicted wife, abandons him to return to London with their child and leaves Hans to navigate his way through a city of immigrants, idealists, and whacky characters. It is not long before Hans discovers the little known, yet thriving culture of immigrant men who gather each week to bat and bowl their way through cricket games. One of these men is Chuck Ramkissoon - an immigrant from Trinidad who runs an illegal gambling operation, cheats on his wife with a scrapbooker, and dreams of creating The New York Cricket Club - a venture which he envisions making millions while introducing Americans to a ‘whole new chapter in U.S. history.'
Netherland explores the aftermath of 911 through the eyes of America’s immigrants who have come to America in pursuit of their dreams but find a country conflicted in the face of impending war with Iraq.
O’Neill uses Hans and Rachel’s marriage as a metaphor to explore fear, isolation, disaapointment and reconciliation as they separate and then come back together. Family and country are two intertwined themes as Hans tries to understand his own identity within the larger concept of community.
Although O’Neill’s writing is fluid and evokes a New York which most American’s will relate to, I found myself indifferent to Hans and his troubles. I liked the colorful and outgoing Chuck, but his ultimate fate left me thinking “so what?” I am not exactly sure why the character development left me cold in this novel - O’Neill certainly gives the reader plenty of background and insight into the two main characters - but, ultimately, I found them forgettable. There are also long passages about the game of cricket - a sport which I know next to nothing about - and these I found mostly boring.
At the end of the book, Hans is talking to a minor character who had considered funding Chuck’s idea for a cricket club in New York:
'“The New York Cricket Club,” Faruk says, raising his eyebrows, “was a splendid idea - a gymkhana in New York. We had a chance there. But would the big project have worked? No. There’s a limit to what Americans understand. The limit is cricket.”' - from Netherland, page 251 -
And this is pretty much how I felt about O’Neill’s novel. A good idea, but it did not work for me. Although this book has gotten some great reviews (including being recognized as a NYT Most Notable book in 2008), I wonder if many Americans will struggle as I did with a story which in large part centers around a sport which is not well-known in our country. Some readers might like this one.
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"Publishers Weekly Review"
by Publishers Weekly,
"Hans van den Broek, the Dutch-born narrator of O'Neill's dense, intelligent novel, observes of his friend, Chuck Ramkissoon, a self-mythologizing entrepreneur-gangster, that 'he never quite believed that people would sooner not have their understanding of the world blown up, even by Chuck Ramkissoon.' The image of one's understanding of the world being blown up is poignant — this is Hans's fate after 9/11. He and wife Rachel abandon their downtown loft, and, soon, Rachel leaves him behind at their temporary residence, the Chelsea Hotel, taking their son, Jake, back to London. Hans, an equities analyst, is at loose ends without Rachel, and in the two years he remains Rachel-less in New York City, he gets swept up by Chuck, a Trinidadian expatriate Hans meets at a cricket match. Chuck's dream is to build a cricket stadium in Brooklyn; in the meantime, he operates as a factotum for a Russian gangster. The unlikely (and doomed from the novel's outset) friendship rises and falls in tandem with Hans's marriage, which falls and then, gradually, rises again. O'Neill (This Is the Life) offers an outsider's view of New York bursting with wisdom, authenticity and a sobering jolt of realism." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
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