This is the debut novel by the Dutch novelist, who got fame for his other book ‘De oesters van Nam Kee’. This later book was nominated for several literary prizes.
In this novel the writer takes us with his protagonist, a psychiatric patient in later life, on his journeys. The travels of the main character take place in the first half of the 20th century.. He is a man who worked as a sailor and he left his ship in the Kenyan harbour Mombasa, he went on to Nairobi, he wanted to start a business in skins with a Belgium partner. To make a new start he joins a medical expedition, planning to do research in Uganda. There he saved the life of Nkongo, a Ugandan, who had been terribly beaten. Nkongo became his personal helper. Next he travelled with an American company making movies on wildlife. In the company of Americans is a charming lady, unavoidable.
After this journey in Africa he decided to travel to the United States of America, and Nkongo joined him. They move into a small house in a poor neighbourhood in New York. They tried to make ends meet through all kinds of jobs. To start a new life is not easy, especially since the racial relationships are very difficult in that neighbourhood. The protagonist tried to get into contact met the lady he met in Uganda, but there is no road for love. The two men got involved in the boxing scene, Nkongo as a rising talent, who is portrayed in the publicty as a wild man. Nkongo did not like that at all. The boxing scene is filled with criminal elements and bribery is never far away, but Knongo tried to stay away from those influences. It meant the end of his life.
The protagonist decided to return to The Netherlands, but also over there his life is on a slippery slope and he went downwards. He ends up as a psychiatric patient.
It all goes down.
His friend died.
His own life took a nose dive.
Love evaded him.
Van Beijnum wrote a good novel, but the novel does not make one happy.
Kees van Beijnum – Hier zijn leeuwen – Amsterdam 2002 – 319 pages