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Since its initial publication in Holland in 2009, Herman Koch’s psychologically astute and philosophically challenging The Dinner has become a much-discussed international bestseller.
Two couples meet for dinner at a high-end restaurant in Amsterdam to address a tragic event: a terrible crime has been committed, and it seems the two fifteen-year-old sons of the two couples are implicated. A police investigation is under way, and the comfortable, insulated worlds of the families are coming apart at the seams. Over the course of the meal, and the novel, civility and friendship disintegrate, as the parents make clear what they are willing to do to protect their children from the consequences of their actions.
This controversial tale of families struggling to make the hardest decision of their lives exposes philosophical and social hypocrisies in which we are all, to a degree, complicit. The popularity of the book speaks to the universal nature of the ethical dilemmas it examines: How far would you go to protect a loved one, even if he or she has committed an unspeakably horrible act?
The Dinner is currently one of the most popular books among teenagers in Holland, perhaps because they can relate to the ethical dilemmas that result from the senseless crime committed by a member of their own peer group. The book is also relevant to adolescent readers in that it explores the dark side of connectivity, including YouTube and texting, as well as the generation gap between young people and their parents.
The book ultimately forces the reader to confront his or her own deeply held convictions and moral values.
“This chilling novel starts out as a witty look at contemporary manners . . . before turning into a take-no-prisoners psychological thriller. . . . With dark humor, Koch dramatizes the lengths to which people will go to preserve a comfortable way of life . . . this is a cunningly crafted thriller that will never allow you to look at a serviette in the same way again.” –Publishers Weekly (starred review)