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.
Excerpted from Netherland by Joseph O'Neill. Copyright © 2008 by Joseph O'Neill. Excerpted by permission of Vintage, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Joseph O’Neill 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.
Joseph O'Neill is represented by Random House Speakers Bureau (www.rhspeakers.com).
“Fascinating.... A wonderful book." —President Obama, interviewed by Jon Meacham in Newsweek (May 25, 2009 issue)
“Stunning . . . with echoes of The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald's masterpiece . . . a resonant meditation on the American Dream.” —Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
“Exquisitely written. . . . A large fictional achievement, and one of the most remarkable post-colonial books I have ever read. . . . Netherland has a deep human wisdom.” —James Wood, The New Yorker
“I devoured it in three thirsty gulps, gulps that satisfied a craving I didn't know I had. . . . It has more life inside it than ten very good novels.” —Dwight Garner, The New York Times Book Review
“Elegant.... Always sensitive and intelligent, Netherland tells the fragmented story of a man in exile—from home, family and, most poignantly, from himself.” —Washington Post Book World
“Suspenseful, artful, psychologically pitch-perfect, and a wonderful read.... Joseph O'Neill has managed to paint the most famous city in the world, and the most familiar concept in the world (love) in an entirely new way” —Jonathan Safran Foer author of Everything is Illuminated
“Haunting.... O’Neill’s elegant prose makes for a striking read.” —Entertainment Weekly
“A beautifully written meditation on despair, loss, and exile.” —USA Today
“Remarkable.... Note-perfect.” —Vogue
“Outstanding.... A coming-of-middle-age tale.” —Newsweek
“O’Neill’s writing is unendingly beautiful.” —The Los Angeles Times
“Brilliant.... A post–9/11 novel that takes us closer to understanding the emotional wreckage.” —GQ
“Provocative, luminous.... A fine, darkly glowing novel.” —The Boston Globe
"A dense, intelligent novel... O'Neill offers an outsider's view of New York bursting with wisdom, authenticity, and a sobering jolt of realism." —Publisher's Weekly (starred review)
"O'Neill writes a prose of Banvillean grace and beauty, shimmering with truthfulness, as poised as it is unsettling. He is a master of the long sentence, of the half-missed moment, of the strange archaeology of the troubled marriage. Many have tried to write a great American novel. Joseph O'Neill has succeeded." —Joseph O'Connor, author of Star of the Sea
"Somewhere between the towns of Saul Bellow and Ian McEwan, O'Neill has pitched his miraculous tent. Netherland is a novel about provisionality, marginality; its registers are many, one of the most potent being its extremely grown-up nostalgia. The dominant sense is of aftermath, things flying off under the impulse of an unwanted explosion, and the human voice calling everything back." —Sebastian Barry, author of A Long Long Way
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?