Man on the Move

Review: Jennifer Hough

Otto de Kat
MacLehose Press; €9.99

IT IS 1935 and Rob, a young Dutchman, escapes his small-town conservative upbringing for the danger and adventure of South Africa’s gold mines.

Here begins a journey that will take him halfway around the world and back, halfway to hell and back and all the while struggling to find some sort of equilibrium in life.

Man on the Move is a coming of age novel set against the backdrop of the Second World War, which is never far from the main narrative.

After leaving South Africa, Rob finds himself right in the thick of the war. The Japanese are winning and he has been captured, sent to work as a slave on the notorious Burma-Siam railway, built by Commonwealth, Dutch and American prisoners of war.

It is here he befriends Guss, a fellow Dutchman, and together they experience the degradation and fear of living from day to day as another man’s prisoner.

The tragedy of war is described with poetic beauty. Men drop dead as they march, others are killed for sport while the strongest struggle to carry on — to survive one more day.

Then the war is over and Guss is gone. Rob seems to have no purpose in life. He watches the atomic bomb destroy Nagasaki and embarks on a drunken rampage through Manila, drowning his sorrows while the world celebrates liberation. He consoles himself with women and frivolity, but his restless spirit leads him on again, setting sail for South Africa, alone, though he does not know why.

The tumultuous times are reflected in the often confused musings and memories of the protagonist, who can never forget his past. He finds solace in hot hazy days, cocktails and post-war debauchery, in stark contrast to the oppressive upbringing he remembers. Escapism can only last so long though, and the reality of life, the loss of his friend and his abandoned family continue to haunt to the very end.


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