Tag Archives: The Discovery of Heaven

The Discovery of Heaven Read Along, Part IV

This is the fourth and final post for the The Discovery of Heaven read along, as hosted by me throughout May and June. If you have posted about part III yourself, feel free to leave the link below and I will include them at the bottom of this post.

The Discovery of Heaven Read Along

With Max dead, Quinten starts looking for Onno and when he is in Rome, he accidentally finds him. Or rather, Onno sees him and says hello. When together they start exploring Rome, Quinten becomes convinced that he has found the original stone tablets with the 10 commandments of Mozes and feels he has to break in to retrieve them. He does, and when fleeing Rome they visit Jerusalem, where the assignments of the Angels is finally fulfilled and the ten commandments are brought back to heaven.

In a way, this last part made the book for me. You could argue that everything falls into place. You realise just why so many of the things that happened had to happen and why all those characters were introduced to Quinten’s life in the first place. You could argue that everything fits together a little too conveniently and that this makes the story feel contrived, but I think the fact that the book borders on the contrived (let alone the plot of Quinten returning the tablets with the Ten Commandments) is what makes it fascinating: Yes, Mulisch ties up every little loose end (or almost everyone) and every character, every event is revisited in some way, but this is part of the larger plot: Mulisch tells the story of a plan of God, executed by angels, so if things seem convenient or you feel there’s too much coincidence, Mulisch can say: but what do you expect, we’re talking about God here, we’re talking about this higher force who knew and can direct to a certain extent. It’s funny when you think about it, and also a kind of exaggerated arrogance: This is Mulisch playing God, in the manner that every author is able to ‘play God’ for their characters and stories, but he is making it more explicit.

Does any of that make sense? I hope it does. In my head it makes perfect sense but try to put it on paper..

There are many different aspects of this novel and so many questions of interest, but I am hoping other posts will bring them up.

Also, did anyone think the last part of the book had a bit of a Da Vinci Code feel to it? Of course, The Discovery of Heaven was released and written much earlier than the Da Vinci Code was, but because of the setting and the many grand theories about conspiracies in religion.. I somehow felt the need to want to check what Mulisch wrote. For the record, I did like The Discovery of Heaven a lot more than the Da Vinci Code though I will say that the Da Vinci Code is a much faster read.

And, do you think Onno will die? I somehow hope not. I would like for him to be left wandering around for a while. To have someone who knows on earth. I don’t know. As much as I disliked him in the third part, and he never really redeemed himself to me in the fourth, I would like him to be alive.

There is also Max’ formerly thought to be death mother. How did you feel about her appearance? I am unsure..

And Ada’s sudden death at the time of Quinten’s disappearance? How did you feel about Quinten at the very end, looking around and saying that every woman is his mother. I read somewhere that Mulisch felt that literature and the feminine were the only thing he thought could save the world from utter devastation and that is why, when Quinten returns the stone tablets, he is surrounded by words and his mother. Does this mean I’ve been too harsh on Mulisch all this time, complaining about his female characters? But what on earth does it mean that ‘the feminine’ can safe the world? I don’t know..

As I said, so many things to discuss..

The Discovery of Heaven Read Along, Part III

This is the third post for the The Discovery of Heaven read along, as hosted by me throughout May and June. If you’re interested, read more information about the read along here. If you have posted about part III yourself, feel free to leave the link below and I will include them at the bottom of this post.

The Discovery of Heaven Read Along

Ah, the third part, the beginning of the end. I didn’t remember much about this part of the book initially, but while reading there were things I recognised. However, I didn’t remember liking this part as much as I did this time around. The Discovery of Heaven is growing on me, and I will try to explain why. I will be visiting a music festival this weekend, so while I’d love for you to leave your links (please do!) I won’t be able to visit until Wednesday.

In the third part of the book, the child of Ada and Onno (or as the reader knows, Ada and Max) is born through Caesarean section, while Ada’s brain becomes more and more still. Max and Sophia raise the child, in an old castle which is now inhabited by artists and eccentrics. Quinten grows up to be an uncommonly clever child, often asking inquisitive questions that leaves many wondering just how a child could think of such things.

Through this part of the book, Quinten is often visited by a nightmare/dream about an otherworldly place that has no outside but only an inside. This makes him take a special interest in architecture, often visiting one of the persons living in the castle who can help him in his quest to find this mysterious building. Meanwhile, the affair between Max and Sophia stops, and Max finds another woman. Onno restarts the relationship with Helga, the girlfriend he had before meeting Ada, that Max destroyed at the time. Onno hardly visits Quinten, being caught up in a very succesful political career, succesful that is, until his participation at the conference in Cuba is discovered, and his political career comes to a sudden halt. Max is on the verge of making a major astronomical discovery. When, one night, he discovers heaven, he is killed by a freak meteoroid, which makes Quinten decide to go look for Onno.

To me, this part of the book was a complete turn around. Where I used to like Onno better, I now have so much more respect for Max. Especially when Onno decided to pull a disappearing act. Seriously? When you have a child you think is yours? I disliked how he decided to live his life before, with his political career being more important than his family life.. I know he got a tough deal, I know, but disappearing? And Max taking his responsibility like that. I don’t know, as much as I disliked him in the first two parts, I enjoyed reading about him this time, though I admit the last pages about him were a bit.. hard to follow.

In this part, Mulisch’ habit of showing off his knowledge was less annoying to me. I think, this must be because he now mostly uses Quinten to ponder things. Making the knowledge seem more innocent somehow?

Also, I loved the castle.

And the beginning of part 3/the end of part 2, with Ada’s fragmented thoughts, it made me a little emotional.

As for the greater theme of the whole book, I still wonder what Mulisch meant to portray exactly. This idea that humans have failed to keep to the bond with God – is it supposed to be a good thing, or a bad thing? I somehow cannot imagine Mulisch thinking religion is great, but his idea that the bonds with Moses are now broken, with the heavy weight of the “how could this happen?” question regarding WW2, it seems he doesn’t picture mankind as good either. And then there is the big question of predestination or not, and free will. I am still considering all of this, so hopefully I will have answers instead of questions in two weeks time.

One more thing, I am still annoyed at Mulisch’ portrayal of women. He implicitly agrees that men and women are completely different somewhere in this third installment of the book. And he also suggests that it is a woman’s place to cook dinner an awful lot. But I guess after 3 posts about this, it is time to let go?

How did you feel about this part of the book?

The Discovery of Heaven Read Along, Part II

This is the second post for the The Discovery of Heaven read along, as hosted by me throughout May and June. If you’re interested, read more information about the read along here. If you have posted about part I yourself, feel free to leave the link below and I will include them at the bottom of this post.

The Discovery of Heaven Read Along

Here we are, at the end of the beginning. I am enjoying the book now, more so than I did the first part. However, I cannot shake some of the criticisms I had 2 weeks ago.

In this second part of the book, Ada, Onno and Max are back in the Netherlands. Ada soon discovers she is pregnant and Onno proposes to her thinking the child is his. However, Max knows the child might as well be his and finds it hard to face Onno because of his guilt. When Ada and Onno visit Max at his work in Westenbork, Ada is called that her father had a heart attack. When they hasten home, all three of them are in a car crash and while neither Max and Onno are hurt, Ada gets into a coma. While she does not wake up, her child survives. When Max goes to Leiden to tell Ada’s mother, Max and Mrs. Brons sleep together. This leads to them regularly having sex. Since Onno is unable to take care of the child alone, due to his political career, Ada’s mother moves to Westerbork to raise the child together with Max.

Ah, the intrigue. Here it is: Ada slept with Max and Onno on the same night. And so, theoretically, we do not know who the father is. Except that, we know, because at the very beginning of the book it is said that the child has to be Max’s. I liked this idea of telling a story through different perspectives and thus getting knowledge from different sources. You seem to form a broader idea of the why and what of what is happening, and yet, you are always left to question the little details: are these matters of choice, or decisions of the “Angels”?

What I still find problematic is the way Mulisch writes about women. They are not really plot devices to drive the story along, but because of the thorough characterisation of Max and Onno, and the noticeably little attention for Ada (or later her mother), I cannot escape the feeling that Harry Mulisch just didn’t care so much. And frankly, the “Ada’s in a coma now” felt like a way of not having to address the issue of who Ada is or isn’t. I remember from last time that I read this book, and I felt the same rereading it now, that I really wanted to have a better or bigger story for Ada, I felt she deserved some meaningful words at the end. I remember going back and rereading the last few pages to make sure I hadn’t missed anything Ada said, and I did the same this time. I know, it is the cruelty of life and death that is portrayed perfectly in this scene: being there at one moment, not being there at another. But I was searching for more. Also for more of an impact on me, that Ada is now in danger of life. Something like shock or emotion, but you are almost not allowed to feel it. And I really do believe that part of this is Mulisch inattention to his female characters. Additionally, can I just say a loud “EW” for the details about Max and Ada’s mother having sex, and Mrs. Brons’ supposed special vagina?

But there is also the subtle storytelling of Mulisch. He does know how to build up his story. I was fascinated with the funeral scene. Where you know it to be the funeral of Ada’s father, but you feel like it is really Ada’s, because that is who you are thinking about the whole time.

How are you enjoying the book thus far?

Alex of the Sleepless Reader wrote an interesting post on part 1 and 2, bringing up several points of discussion.

If you have written a post on part 2 (or on several parts) of The Discovery of Heavenrecently, please leave me a note and I will add the link to this post.

The Discovery of Heaven Read Along, Part I

This is the first post for the The Discovery of Heaven read along, as hosted by me throughout May and June. If you’re interested, read more information about the read along here. If you have posted about part I yourself, feel free to leave the link below and I will include them at the bottom of this post.

The Discovery of Heaven Read Along

When I started reading the first part of this book, I honestly questioned what I had gotten myself into. Moreover, I questioned what I had gotten all of you who are participating into. You see, I remember loving this book. But when I had read the first 50 pages, I was pretty sure I was not going to love it like I did this time. Rather, I found fault with so many things in this book, I was sure all of you would give up after reading those first 50 pages. But I continued on, hoping some of you would take courage and do the same. And I have to tell you, I did begin to like it better.

Yes, I still find fault with a lot of it. But I also realised something. All those faults, all the arguments I held in my head with the stoic picture of Harry Mulisch on the back of the Dutch edition of this book, (which looks like this, by the way), resulted in this: This might be the perfect introduction to Harry Mulisch. Everything that people hate and like about this author, oh, and maybe some love things about him too, is in this book. It is his Magnus Opus, and there must be a reason for that. And, there is. You see, if you are going to try Mulisch, you had better read this, or the Assault (which I think might be an easier introduction, but also not a complete one, which I guarantee you, The Discovery of Heaven is). This book, this, is Harry Mulisch. Not only the themes, but also, as this post says (Note: do not read this link if you haven’t finished the whole book), part of his life is in here. His father was locked up after the war for collaborating with the Germans, his mother, a jew, survived the war thanks to his father’s help. Whether I end up loving or hating him and his work, after reading this, I know just what I can expect to find, and you will know just what you will find, in any of the other books by him. That is also one of the reasons why I recommend not reading every thing written by him, or even two books by him, shortly after each other. Because, inevitably, themes will be repeated. Over and over again. Trust me.

The Discovery of Heaven is called epic, in almost every review out there. I can see why. It takes the universe as its setting, it takes on so many themes you rather wonder if Mulisch isn’t being overly ambitious: religion is a dominant theme, but so is literature, language in itself, politics and metaphysics and/or physics and astronomy. Oh, and of course, since this is Mulisch Dutch literature, it features sex.

In this first part, we meet Max and Onno. They, respectively an astronomer and a decipherer of ancient languages turned politician, meet by chance but end up becoming the best of friends. Soon, Max and Onno, both fall in love with Ada, a cellist, who first has a relationship with “I’m so manly, I sleep with every woman I fancy and then leave them, just like that” – Max, but later with the “not-so-attractive, thoroughly-messy-and-unhealthy, but steadfast” – Onno. When Ada receives an invitation to Cuba to perform at a cultural gathering, Max and Onno accompany her. And while Onno is seduced by a Cuban lady, apparently, without him being able to help it, unable to resist, Max and Ada have sex in the ocean. Nothing epic about this storyline, thus far, right? Except, that when seen in light of the Prologue and the First Intermezzo, nothing suddenly seems to have happened by chance. Because Ada and Max are supposed to have a child, that will have this big assignment received from what I gather are angels. And everything, even the First World War, was planned to get these two to meet, to have sex and conceive a child.

Um, so yes. On to my problems with this first part, because even though I started to enjoy reading this book more towards the end, all I really took note of while reading were the many things I couldn’t agree with, shook my head to while reading, wanted to shout at Harry Mulisch for. Here we go:

  • First of all, there is the religious setting. I know it is probably meant to be funny, or some form of critique on religion, but this depiction of angels starting two wars, two such enormous wars, just for this one child to be born? Scary, plain scary. And while I am not pro or against religion, I am so tired of religion so often being depicted as only controlling and dangerous. I don’t know, I just couldn’t laugh at those first 10 pages.
  • Then, there is Onno and Max and their friendship. Wow, did they get on my nerves! No friendship works that way. No normal people talk that way. I know the rest of the book will be less heavily focused on their friendship, and I have to say I am glad.
  • Since we’re on the topic of the talks Onno and Max share. Can I just say: STOP WITH THE SHOWING OFF ALREADY, MULISCH! This is the big thing I find fault with in Mulisch. It isn’t that he is overly ambitious in this book, per se, because really, you will find it in almost any book of his, but please, I do not need to know how much you know of literature, or physics or whatever other topic you try to wriggle in between the flow of the book. It just, makes the book unnecessarily thick and it also made me start skimming pieces of text: “Oh, here’s another page on quantum mechanics, let’s move on”. Please, I know I probably should be impressed, but I am not. I can’t help but feel you a) wish to make me feel stupid b) wish to proof yourself, ie. “authors are smart too, you know”, or c) this is probably unintended, but, make me feel like if I had been an expert in astronomy, I would have probably found fault with every sentence you wrote.
  • Since I do not get to complain about sex at this stage in the book, I will say that I dislike the way the relationship of Max and Onno towards women in general and towards Ada is depicted. Especially in the scenes that feature Max, women are simply tools and bodies. And Ada, in the story, until now, has never had much ‘agency’, things just happen to her, she accepts them, or goes along, and that’s it. Even in scenes that apparently should convey her taking initiative “Would you mind if I cleaned your room, Onno” she is portrayed as not knowing why she said it, not knowing whether she even wanted to say it, it just happened. [Of course, this might be the angel deciding things again, who knows?]
  • Politics. Ah, Mulisch, and your Cuban dreams. If you weren’t so steadfast in your sympathies, I might even smile at them. Look back at this and think “Ah, but all of the intellectuals in the Netherlands back in the day (the seventies) used to think communism was great, that there was no fault to find with Lenin, even if Stalin might have killed a few too many, and that Cuba was the way every state should be.” So maybe I should praise Mulisch’s sense in that he did portray the Soviet Union as “a little grey”, but really, Cuba as the blossoming flower of communism, where communism everywhere else is failing? I am not right-wing, I vote left on the Dutch spectrum of politics, which to many in the US would be “communist”, but I cannot see how Mulisch could be so blind to the cruelties of communism, while claiming to be an intellectual.

This is not to say I hated what I have read so far. I did not. Actually, the style and language flow beautifully, most of the time. You know, when Mulisch doesn’t go on about the one book written by this one obscure German author. High expectations, after loving this book so much the first time, might have played part in my initial disappointment as well. I am, also, fascinated to see how this goes on, because I can really only remember the story up to halfway the second part of the book. I just had to write my problems down, before moving around them. Which in a way, I have been able to do during the second 100 pages of this first part. But I could never really completely let go of my frustrations.

How do you feel about The Discovery of Heaven so far? Did you enjoy it more than I did? What did you like, what didn’t you like?

I am also curious about the flow of the English translation. It is said to be a little messy in places? I am reading the Dutch edition, because it is the one I owned before starting this read along, but I did notice that there are a lot of specifically Dutch words, for Dutch political movements (“provo”) for example, which may not translate well?

The Discovery of Heaven Read Along

It is the beginning of May and that means that this is the month in which I start hosting the Discovery of Heaven read along for my planned month of Dutch literature in June.

The Discovery of Heaven Read Along

According to Amazon, the Discovery of Heaven by Harry Mulisch is about the following:

“On a cold night in Holland, Max Delius – a hedonistic, yet brilliant astronomer who loves fast cars, nice clothes and women – picks up Onno Quist, a cerebral chaotic philologist who cannot bear the banalities of everyday life. They are like fire andwater. But when they learn they were conceived on the same day, it is clear that something extraordinary is about to happen. Their worlds become inextricably intertwined, as they embark on a life’s journey destined to change the course of human history. A magnum opus that is also a masterful thriller. “

I remember liking this a lot in high school and I am very curious to see how I will like it now.

The proposed posting schedule is as follows:

  • The weekend of 13-15 May: Part 1
  • The weekend of 27-29 May: Part 2
  • The weekend of 10-12 June: Part 3
  • The weekend of 24-26 June: Part 4

Every part is about 200 pages. As I have said before, it is okay to post on the book all at once, and I do not mind if you post earlier or later, I will try to link to all your posts.

If you are participating, please enter your blog URL in the Link-collection below. If you do not have a blog, feel free to participate in the comment-section of each post.

I hope some of you decide to participate!