From Publishers Weekly
The pressures of politics and philosophy bring a Dutch diplomat to crisis in this 1990 novel that examines the ways internal angst plays out against external forces. Capping off an erratic career in the foreign service, Felix Hoffman lands in Prague a few months before the 1989 Velvet Revolution, his new position as ambassador promising a cushy ride into retirement. Steeped in stale grief over the loss of his two daughters—one to leukemia, one to a heroin overdose—that spurred an escalating estrangement from his wife, Marian, Hoffman wallows in gluttony and self-destruction. As he works his way through the contents of his refrigerator, he finds temporary respite in Spinoza's Treatise
. Excerpts from this work require close attention, and the philosopher's notions of aligning perception, impressions and intuition highlight Hoffman's existential weariness. The story takes on a snappy pace as the era's political turmoil comes to the fore and a slew of subplots begin to coalesce: American tourist Freddy Mancini witnesses a kidnapping that later requires the involvement of John Marks, a CIA agent with romantic and espionage ties to Hoffman's wife; Czech journalist Irena Nová befriends Hoffman, but has her own twisted motivations; and Wim Scheffers, a higher-up in the Dutch diplomatic hierarchy, tries to shepherd along Hoffman's career to a respectable close. De Winter's original slant on a straightforward plot of Eastern bloc intrigue creates a resonant portrait of a conflicted man in a conflicted era. (Nov.)
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