Man on the Move

Written by Otto de Kat
Review by Ann Northfield

This slim novella translated from the Dutch is the author’s second book. It begins with the protagonist Rob being waved goodbye by his parents as he sets out for Africa in January 1935. The action, or perhaps a better word would be description, switches from goldmines to a Japanese POW camp where Rob makes friends with Guus. After their ship is torpedoed, Guus is lost, presumed drowned and Rob never seems to recover from the loss of his friend. Maybe it is survivor’s guilt. Rob cannot seem to find anywhere in the world where he feels at home. He has rejected his family seemingly due to unresolved issues with his father. One of the reasons he is so drawn to Guus could be that Guus embraced the conventional family life disdained by Rob.

The existential angst and emotional distance from the narrator makes it difficult sometimes to really empathise with him. The book is written in a minimalist, economical style which still conveys a great deal. It is reminiscent of a Joycean stream of consciousness in many ways. If you are a fan of modernism and like authors such as Sartre and Camus (to whom de Kat is compared on the back of the book) then you will probably enjoy this very much. For me, despite several moments of power, it lacked a cohesive whole and sometimes the narrator’s aloneness and angsty self-involvement seemed just a little bit teenage. Not a book for all therefore, but I’m sure Joyce fans would like it.