Winner of The PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction 2009
Synopses & Reviews
“A stunning novel by a great American writer.”—Washington Post
Jerusalem: home to seekers, heretics, hustlers, and madmen of many faiths. In this most fractious city, a plot unfolds to bomb the sacred Temple Mount.
Christopher Lucas, an expatriate American journalist, stumbles upon the plot while investigating religious fanatics. Entangled in the intrigue are a nightclub singer, an unstable Jewish guru, a strung-out Kabbalist seeking the messiah, and a soldier of fortune routinely found at the worlds violent clashes. A confrontation in Gaza, a chase through riot-filled streets, a cat-and-mouse game in an underground maze—as Lucas races against time, he uncovers the duplicity and depravity on all sides of Jerusalems sacred struggle.
An explosive bestseller, Damascus Gate lays bare the dangers at the fringes of faith.
“A transcendent thriller.”—Time
“Brims over with plots, subplots, and an impressive array of incisively drawn characters . . . The range of [Stones] knowledge is spectacular.”—The New Yorker
“Damascus Gate asks enormous questions about cosmic truth—and its effect on those who think they own it—with intensity, intellectual rigor and abiding morality.”—San Francisco Chronicle
"But while the religious quests of Stone's characters help drive his story, the novel is ultimately concerned less with metaphysics and cosmic order than with the earthly realm of politics and the human craving for certainty. The characters in Damascus Gate may be "God- struck," they may dream insistently of a better world, but like so many Stone characters, they end up captives of history and their own very human illusions." — The New York Times
"Heavy as a marble tablet, it delivers revelations about character and culture in the way that only a dense, textured novel can.... Precise and passionate, Damascus Gate is a stunning achievement." — Philadelphia Inquirer
"Damascus Gate asks enormous questions about cosmic truth—and its effect on those who think they own it—with intensity, intellectual rigor and abiding morality." — San Francisco Chronicle
"The writing, often dense with metaphor and landscape, is powerful, and the result is a pulsing, profound novel...." — Entertainment Weekly
New York Times Book Review Best Book of the Year
In a New York City made phantasmagorical by the events of 9/11, and left alone after his English wife and son return to London, Hans van den Broek stumbles upon the vibrant New York subculture of cricket, where he revisits his lost childhood and, thanks to a friendship with a charismatic and charming Trinidadian named Chuck Ramkissoon, begins to reconnect with his life and his adopted country. As the two men share their vastly different experiences of contemporary immigrant life in America, an unforgettable portrait emerges of an "other" New York populated by immigrants and strivers of every race and nationality.
The author of "Blood-Dark Track" delivers a mesmerizing novel about a man trying to make his way in an America of shattered hopes and values, and the unlikely occurrences that pull him back into an authentic, passionately engaged life.
With soaring vision and profound intelligence, Robert Stone has written a harrowing, breathtaking novel about our desperate search, at any price, for the consolation of redemption - and about the people who are all too willing to provide it. A violent confrontation in the Gaza Strip, a mind-altering pilgrimage, a race through riot-filled Jerusalem streets, a cat-and-mouse game in an underground maze, a desperate attempt to prevent a bomb from detonating beneath the Temple Mount - Damascus Gate is an exhilarating journey through the moral and religious ambiguities that haunt the holiest of cities and its seekers, cynics, hustlers, and madmen. Set in Jerusalem, where violence, ecstasy, heresy, and salvation are all to be found, Damascus Gate is simultaneously the story of a man's search for truth - or some version of it - and the story of a city where sanity is casually traded for faith.
About the Author
Joseph ONeill was born in Cork, Ireland, in 1964 and grew up in Mozambique, South Africa, Iran, Turkey, and Holland. His previous works include the novels This Is the Life and The Breezes and the nonfiction book Blood-Dark Track, a family history centered on the mysterious imprisonment of both his grandfathers during World War II, which was a New York Times Notable Book. He writes regularly for The Atlantic Monthly. He lives with his family in New York City.
Reading Group Guide
1. Describe the structure of Netherland
. Why does the author open with Hans moving to New York City and then quickly jump into the future with Chuck's death and then jump back? Do you think these flashbacks and foward leaps relate to the narrative arc of the story? Is this simply how we tell stories? When you tell a story do you tell it chronologically? Why?
2. Childhood often slips into the story-that of both Hans and Chuck. Early on in the novel, Hans mentions that he doesn't connect to himself as a child ("I, however, seem given to self-estrangement" [p. 49]), then proceeds to produce numerous memories of his childhood and of his mother. How is this reconnecting with his heritage and his past important to the story? How is Chuck often the catalyst for these memories?
3. Chuck is more connected to his heritage than Hans. He socializes with others from the West Indies; he's married to a woman from his birth country, etc. How do flashbacks to his childhood differ from Hans's and how do they affect the novel as a whole?
4. How does nostalgia play into Netherland? Who is nostalgic and for what? Why does O'Neill open the novel with someone being nostalgic for New York City?
5. Discuss the title. What does "netherland" mean and what do you think it refers to?
6. Chuck's motto is "think fantastic." How does this both help and hinder him? Can you create an appropriate motto for Hans? How about for yourself?
7. What does the United States represent for Hans and Chuck? How are their relationships with their new country similar, and also polar opposites?
8. How are both Han's and Chuck's experiences typical of the American dream of immigrant stories? Compare Netherland to other stories of the immigrant experience (The Joy Luck Club, The House on Mango Street, House of Sand and Fog) or to what you imagine immigrating to a new country to be like.
9. Is the American Dream the same after 9/11? How are Americans both united and divided after 9/11? How is the world of Netherland particular to the United States after 9/11?
10. Describe the narrator's voice. Do you trust and like Hans as a narrator? Do you sympathize with him and understand his motives? Do you identify with him?
11. Describe the Chelsea Hotel when Hans lives there. How is it a character in the novel? How are the various inhabitants and the oddness of the place appealing and comforting to Hans?
12. What is Han's relationship with his mother? How does the relationship continue to affect him after his mother's death? How does it affect his being a father?
13. Discuss the theme of male friendship in the novel and its connection to sports. Early in the novel, Hans describes playing cricket with Chuck: "The rest of our lives—jobs, children, wives, worries—peeled away, leaving only this fateful sporting fruit [p. 48]." While Hans's friendship with Chuck goes beyond cricket, the sport is what initially brings the two men together. Why do you think cricket is so important to Hans? How does his friendship with Chuck change him?
14. Netherland is also the story of a marriage. Why is Hans and Rachel's marriage falling apart? What brings them together again in the end?
15. Discuss the theme of betrayal and forgiveness in Netherland. How do both Rachel and Hans betray each other and why? What about Chuck? Do the characters ever lead themselves astray and betray themselves? Does America betray both Chuck and Hans in the end?
“Stunning . . . with echoes of The Great Gatsby
, Fitzgerald's masterpiece . . . a resonant meditation on the American Dream.”
—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
The introduction, questions, and suggestions for further reading that follow are designed to enliven your group's discussion of Joseph O'Neill's Netherland.