Book review: The Republic

The Republic

The Republic
by Joost de Vries
Translated from the Dutch
by Jane Hedley-Prôle
Other Press
De republiek
was first published in 2013
Fiction/Dutch literature
336 pages


Buy the book

I requested The Republic months ago, as the synopsis was very attractive. The book sounded like exactly my type of books:

A gripping academic novel about deception and self-deception, ambition, the love of history as entertainment, and the hunt for the perfect enemy.

Josip Brik, larger-than-life pop philosopher, Hitler studies expert, and TV historian, has always found himself more attracted to the fictional representation of history than to history itself. When Brik falls from a hotel window in Amsterdam, the number one mourner is Friso de Vos, a young academic who has been Brik’s right-hand man. However, Friso is forced to watch from the sidelines as his countryman Philip de Vries, whom he has never heard of, is interviewed again and again in the newspapers, and even on TV, about “his mentor,” Josip Brik. When a large symposium for historians is organized in Vienna, Friso sees his opportunity to set the record straight and begins to impersonate Philip, with dangerous and hilarious results.

With a playful mix of literary and pop culture references, this novel immerses us in the world of the global intelligentsia, where the truth counts for less than what is said about it. Joost de Vries has written a biting academic satire, an absurd and exceptionally intelligent tale. 

I usually don’t include the synopsis in my reviews, but I do it here for several reasons. First of all, I read this book months ago, and even with my notes, I have not retained much from it, and I’m still totally confused about it.
The second reason is to show that the book was nothing the synopsis promised.

It was certainly not gripping. I dragged my feet to finish it, and only did because I had requested it. When I request a book, I don’t think it’s right to DNF it.

I never saw reading as a duty. To me, it was always a means of gaining something.

Well, except with this one!! Funny to find that line in this book!!

Hilarious results? Maybe it’s something cultural, and Dutch humor is very different from French humor, but I really don’t remember that aspect of the novel. Though I can see on Goodreads that lots of Dutch readers didn’t give it too many stars either.
With a playful mix of literary and pop culture references: I guess my experience shows my lack of culture, I probably missed then all the references. And I didn’t find anything playful either.
A biting academic satire, an absurd and exceptionally intelligent tale. Possibly then too intelligent for me. 
I guess this whole thing on Hitler studies is in the domain of satire on the intelligentsia, but honestly, it’s a very sensitive topic to play with, unless it’s very well done (and I didn’t find it to be the case here), see for instance my review of Look Who’s Back.

The type of sentences like the following one may be considered humorous by some, Alas, I find it too close to reality to find it funny:

We want revolutions without revolutions. Wars without victims, racing cars without accidents, beer without alcohol, Coca-Cola without sugar, coffee without caffeine — the degeneration of the free market on all psychological levels. We want to have as much as possible for the lowest possible price and will therefore be helpless when new Robespierres or Hitlers arise.

Sometimes, a book tries too hard to be smart to please many readers.
This experience has at least taught me the lesson to beware of an awesome synopsis. Note to self: try excerpts before requesting books!

VERDICT: Confusing. Unmemorable. 


Any tip to make me understand it?

In full compliance with FTC Guidelines, I received this ebook free of charge from the publisher through Edelweiss. I was in no way compensated for this post as a reviewer, and the thoughts are my own.


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