This is a beautiful story of humanity in extremis, of the pull of the mystical and the fight for survival. Like the Jews of old, the surviving refugees consider themselves special, the chosen ones. But hardship does not bring out man’s best nature; within the group we find bitter rivalries, racism and rape. Kindness is met with suspicion and a bitter indebtedness that turns to hate. Yet we can’t help caring for, and about, these dregs of humanity as they discover how much they’ve lost (p84):
Home – a place that seemed pleasant to him now, not poor and desperate like when he left. There was a fire in the stove, a soft bed, his warm wife.
Winner of the English Pen Award, and translated from the Dutch by Sam Garrett, These Are the Names is a timeless tragedy that nevertheless offers a glimmer of hope for a better future. A page-turning read, despite the harrowing subject, somewhat reminiscent of the epic journey in a different kind of extreme weather conditions depicted in White Hunger. My thanks to Scribe for my review copy.