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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Leon de Winter

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Title: Kaplan
Author: Leon de Winter
Genre: Novel
Written: 1986
Length: 464 pages
Original in: Dutch
Availability: Kaplan - France
Leo Kaplan - Deutschland
  • Kaplan has not been translated into English yet

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Our Assessment:

A- : remarkably composed, a very good read

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ A 22/5/2001 Martin Ebel
Neue Zürcher Zeitung A 19/4/2001 Hans Christian Kosler
Süddeutsche Zeitung . 8/3/2001 Verena Auffermann
Die Tageszeitung . 22/3/2001 Manuel Gogos
Die Welt A- 23/6/2001 Uwe Wittstock

  Review Consensus:

  Very enjoyable

  From the Reviews:
  • "Auch fünfzehn Jahre nach der Erstveröffentlichung liest man Leo Kaplan mitVergnügen, denn nirgendwo äußert sich de Winter derart offen und zugleich verfremdet über sich selbst, über seine Herkunft und seine Obsessionen, seine Schreibimpulse und -blockaden, seine Poetik und seine reale Schriftstellerexistenz." - Martin Ebel, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "Dabei ist de Winter durchaus kein Leichtnehmer, im Gegenteil. Aber er setzt die schweren Brocken der Realität, nachdem er sie durch die Luft gewirbelt hat, wieder so zusammen, dass in den erkennbaren Nähten die viel berufene Leichtigkeit des Seins durchschimmert. (...) (E)r lässt sich ablenken, und so ist es eben jene Mixtur aus erfolgreichem Scheitern, die de Winters Roman einen gewinnenden Charme verleiht. Auch der Leser wird abgelenkt durch eine Vielzahl von Exkursen, Rückblenden und gedanklichen Kapriolen." - Hans Christian Kosler, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "Ein Buch, angefüllt bis zum Rand mit Überraschungen und Scherzartikeln, ein wenig chaotisch und gelegentlich ein bisschen trivial. Andererseits aber auch ein Buch voller verlockender Einblicke, voller Vexierbilder, Weisheitszettelchen und geheimnisvoller kleiner Gaben. Eine Wundertüte eben, schrill, verblüffend und rätselhaft." - Uwe Wittstock, Die Welt

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The title character of the novel, Leo Kaplan, is very much the author's alter ego. Amusingly, Winter even even ascribes one of his most successful novels, Hoffman's Hunger, to Kaplan (amusing because that particular novel -- and the success -- actually only came after Kaplan). Kaplan is a thirty eight year-old reasonably successful Dutch author in 1985, when much of the book takes place. He's having a tough time of it: his second marriage collapses at the start of it, and he is suffering from writer's block. It's not quite a classic mid-life crisis, but a crisis it is.
       The root of Kaplan's problems, only gradually revealed, is twofold. First there is the great lost love of his life, Ellen. He ran into her a few years earlier in Cairo -- actually only catching sight of her, in passing, without talking to her -- , and it is since that time that he has been unable to write another novel. Secondly, he apparently still has not entirely come to terms with his relationship with his father. Dad died in 1970, but his will specified that Kaplan would only inherit the substantial family fortune fifteen years later. (In fact, the will is a bit more precise: there is an alternative that would have allowed Kaplan to get the money earlier, but it is only revealed late in the book.) As the date approaches, it becomes clear that there is a lot still unresolved in Kaplan's mind and soul.
       His father was a very successful businessman, but also never outgrew his reputation as single-minded, striving, and specifically Jewish -- known in the town where he lived as the 'Jew Kaplan', an identity Kaplan junior can never quite escape. (Leon de Winter is also the son of Jewish parents.) Part of the book focusses on his coming to terms with that specific identity -- and so, for example, it is unsurprising that among the last scenes includes a homecoming of sorts, as he visits his old hometown and stays for a day longer to be the requisite tenth male in order that Jewish services can be held at the local synagogue.
       Kaplan's parent's home contained essentially no books, but Kaplan escaped to the big city to study and to become a writer, living a life completely different from the culturally much more limited (and stifling) one he knew at home. Nevertheless, the escape was not total, and this is, in part, what weighs so heavily on Kaplan.
       Seen first as a fairly well-known figure (who likes to sleep around a great deal), his first passionate love affair, with fellow student Ellen, is only recounted well into the book. A colossal misunderstanding drove them apart, and seeing Ellen in Cairo is the beginning of a process of trying to come to terms with what happened back then. Coincidence brings them together again in 1985, as Kaplan goes to Rome on business, where Ellen's diplomat-husband happens to be stationed at the time. They don't entirely revisit the past, but rather, eventually, both are able to look to the future (though Kaplan is clearly the one more reluctant to do so).
       Ellen's story, even apart from Kaplan, is also given significant attention. She hasn't completely foundered, but with the possibility of meeting Kaplan again it dawns on her that "her life was based on a lie". Kaplan's complications are of a different sort, but no less weighty.
       Kaplan is written with remarkable ease and assurance. Winter is patient in the telling of his tale, moving between Kaplan's present and the relevant incidents from the past. There is a sense of increasing momentum as the narrative moves forward (something that the denouement admittedly can't quite sustain), and the episodes are very well-related. Winter is a sure stylist, making for a deceptively easy read of what is still a fairly profound work.
       Kaplan's womanising can get to be a bit much, but other than that there are almost no false steps in this books. From an amusing peripheral attack on Harry Fulisch (pronounced 'foolish', of course -- and meaning Harry Mulisch) to a poignant suicide (two pieces of the novel that Winter even manages to cleverly tie together), from diplomatic life in the Sudan to the writer's life, this book offers a great deal of entertainment, and a few things to ponder. Quite an accomplishment.

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Kaplan: Reviews: Leon de Winter: Other books by Leon de Winter under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Dutch literature

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About the Author:

       Dutch author Leon de Winter was born in 1954.

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