from my bookshelf: the dinner by herman koch


on a summer night in amsterdam, two couples dine together at a nice restaurant. the book unfolds over the course of a meal; both couples have a fifteen-year-old son. the story crescendos when the sons encounter a horrific situation. the dinner reveals what parents will do to shield their children, and what may be revealed when layers of high society are peeled back, the dark side of: loyalty, fear, and friendship tainted by tragedy.


“He was still smiling, but there was no feeling behind it. Keep on smiling, you could see him thinking. The smile came from the same carload as the handshake. Together, in seven months’ time, they were going to lead him to electoral victory. Even if this head were to be pelted with rotten eggs, the smile had to remain intact. Even behind the remains of a cream pie pressed into his face by an angry activist, the smile could never, ever fade from the voters’ view.”

“I looked around at the other figures cradling their wineglasses in the golden-yellow glow from the braziers and torches positioned strategically around the garden, and in my mind I heard the voice of the old actor who figured in that TV commercial ten–or was it twenty?–years ago: ”Yes, that’s right, you too can be happy as God in France. With a good glass of cognac and real French cheese . . .'”

“But I didn’t say any of that. As I said before, I didn’t try to refute the arguments with which Michel tried to prove his innocence. After all, how innocent was he, anyway? Are you innocent when you throw a desk lamp at someone’s head, but guilty when you accidentally set that same person on fire?”

“I thought about her cheerful face. When I said to her what I said, it broke down the middle. Like a vase. Or like a glass that shatters at a high-pitched note.”

“The way I remember it, there was an audible hiss when I grabbed the glowing handles of the pan and the skin on my fingers began to burn. I felt no pain, at least not at that point.”

“And then they actually left. I watched as they walked toward the exit, my brother holding his wife by the arm. Only a few guests looked up or turned their heads as they passed. A process of habituation seemed to be taking place here as well; if you stayed in one place long enough, you became a face like all the rest.”

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