Grove Press
Grove Press
Grove Press

Lost Paradise

A Novel

by Cees Nooteboom Translated from Dutch by Susan Massotty

“Elegant, subtle intelligence . . . cool, intellectually sophisticated, ironic . . . Nooteboom is a careful prose stylist of a notably philosophical bent.” —J.M. Coetzee, New York Review of Books

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 160
  • Publication Date November 15, 2008
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-4388-4
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $14.00
  • Imprint Grove Hardcover
  • Page Count 160
  • Publication Date October 01, 2007
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-1855-4
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $23.00

About The Book

From acclaimed Dutch novelist Cees Nooteboom comes a haunting tale of angels, art, and modern love.

Cees Nooteboom, hailed by A. S. Byatt as “one of the greatest modern novelists,” is one of Holland’s most important authors. In Lost Paradise, Nooteboom’s most ambitious book yet, he sets out to uncover the connections between two seemingly unrelated travelers.

Alma, a young woman of German descent, leaves her parents’ Sao Paolo home on a hot summer night. Her car engine dies in one of the city’s most dangerous favelas, a mob surrounds her, and she is pulled from the automobile. Not long after, Dutch novelist Erik Zontag is in Perth, Australia, for a literary conference and finds a winged woman curled up in a closet in an empty house. The intersection of their paths illuminates the ways in which the divine touches our lives.

With a beautiful stranger aboard a Berlin-bound flight and a haggard-looking man on a Holland train platform, Nooteboom builds a complex, haunting story of longing, regret, and rebirth in the dawn of the new millennium. Lost Paradise is an affirmation of our underlying humanity in an increasingly fragmented age, a deeply resonant tale of cosmically thwarted love.

Tags Literary


“Elegant, subtle intelligence . . . cool, intellectually sophisticated, ironic . . . Nooteboom is a careful prose stylist of a notably philosophical bent.” —J.M. Coetzee, New York Review of Books

“Dreamy and self-conscious . . . Nooteboom [is] a cerebral, experimental writer renowned in his native Netherlands (indeed throughout Europe) and consistently on the short list of Nobel Prize candidates. . . . he brazenly explores notions of reinvention, healing, loss, and the divine.” —Tom Barbash, The New York Times Book Review

“A writer of whimsical, cerebral, postmodern fables, not unlike Calvino, Nabokov, or Milan Kundera. . . . [Lost Paradise is] a wry portrait of two ruined civilizations meeting and perhaps creating something new . . . a small, oddly beautiful work of art.” —Jess Row, Slate

“This dreamy, philosophical novel can be read in one sitting, but its images (a winged woman curled up in a bare cupboard) and its funny, profound meditations on fate (‘life . . . is the stupidest of culinary experiments’) will haunt you much longer. A-.” —Hannah Tucker, Entertainment Weekly

“Hypnotic . . . dream-like . . . Nooteboom’s characters are gripping, his dialogue humorous and his narrative brimming with musings about identity and redemption. His genius, however, is his seamless integration of contemporary, mythic and historic images. . . . He embeds philosophical musings in observations of the commonplace, so that his ideas sneak up on you, appearing unexpectedly, breathtakingly, like angels hidden in abandoned cupboards.” —Jennifer Vanderbes, The Washington Post

“Vividly drawn passages of great beauty . . . [Nooteboom’s] characters here reference such authors as the late, great Austrian cynic Thomas Bernhard and imaginative Italian luminary Italo Calvino, and it’s within that collision between the grim and the playful that Nooteboom’s own voice can most often be found. . . . In his many little books detailing massive journeys (both literal and figurative), Nooteboom often manages to give readers the same.” —Eric Allen Hatch, Metro Times Detroit

“A fine book, eloquent, masterfully crafted, with engaging characters and events. It tickles at grand ideas as well as shallow modern living. You could easily find yourself returning to Lost Paradise from time to time.” —Linda Crosson, The Dallas Morning News

“Eminent Dutch novelist Nooteboom (All Soul’s Day) weaves an imaginative tale of redemption from the intersecting lives of travelers. . . . Framed by masterful reflections on misunderstandings in life and literature, Nooteboom’s short work, at once delicate and chiseled, achieves a dreamlike suspension of time and place.” —Publishers Weekly

“An astonishing tale of a beautiful art student seeking her soul in Australia’s outback . . . a masterpiece by visionary Dutchman Nooteboom . . . Luminous. Numinous. Glorious.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“A brief, sweet book, rich with dreaming and gentle philosophizing . . . a remarkably gossamer thread . . . dreamy, grainy-film-like . . . suspended in time and just outside of the concrete world.” —Lucia Silva, bookbrowse.com

Lost Paradise completes the second half of an orbit achieved by its mirrored opposite, Milton’s Paradise Lost . . . luminous . . . refreshed yet tragic . . . a delight, filled with sparkling sentences, an aura of wonder, and a great story-teller’s facility.” —Ron Slate, ronslate.com

“An antipodean treatment of Milton’s epic poem in both title and geography. . . . [Nooteboom’s] diction is straightforward and efficient in the way of the Dutch, but his plot bobs and weaves like a philosophical riddle, challenging the intellect to recognize truths that are typically only acknowledged on the level of the soul. The parallels Nooteboom draws are impressive; it’s no small feat to relate longing and the cosmos to sanitoriums and Australian aborigines, no matter how much James Joyce one might have read in college.” —Tiffany Lee-Youngren, The San Diego Union-Tribune

“Dense, layered, magical and innovative . . . Nooteboom is an original, a European thinker preoccupied by the strangeness of life in all its multiple ambiguity, from the now to a poem by Ovid. His books are explorations, tiny bombs capable of exploding the imagination of any reader open to adventure. His prose is exact and his observations invariably epigrammatic and always telling. Above all, he has no interest in rules and he certainly does not abide by them. . . . Anyone interested in European writing, or simply in writing, should, or rather, must engage with Nooteboom’s imaginative intellectualism.” —Eileen Battersby, The Irish Times


A Washington Post Book World 100 Best Books of 2007


Part One

. . . and from the other Hill
To thir fixt Station, all in bright array
The Cherubim descended; on the ground
Gliding metéorous, as Ev’ning Mist
Ris’n from a River o’re the marish glides,
And gathers ground fast at the Labourer’s heel
Homeward returning. High in Front advanc’t,
The brandisht Sword of God before them blaz’d
Fierce as a Comet; which with torrid heat,
And vapour as the Libyan Air adust,
Began to parch that temperate Clime; whereat
In either hand the hast’ning Angel caught
Our ling’ring Parents, and to th’ Eastern Gate
Led them direct, and down the Cliff as fast
To the subjected Plaine; then disappeared.

—Milton, Paradise Lost, Book XII


Someone left her house in Jardins one hot summer evening while the smell of jacarandas and magnolias filled the heavy, humid air. The Jardins district is where the rich live, the people whose staff—cooks and gardeners—have a long way to travel, two hours or more, twice a day, to get to and from work.

Sáo Paulo is a big city. When it rains, the buses are even slower than usual.

Someone left her house, borrowed her mother’s second car and went out for a drive with the music of Bjørk—Nibelungen laments that seem out of place in the tropics—turned up full blast. She sang along with the music, but in a shrill, hysterical voice, working off a rage aimed at no one in particular and a sadness that can be traced to no particular source.

Someone drove down the Marginal, along the Tieté, past the nouveau riche houses in Morumbi, and then, without giving a thought to where she was going or what she was doing, entered forbidden territory—not Ebú-Ecú, but Paraisópolis, the very worst favela of all, a hell rather than a paradise, and fraught with danger, making it, at that moment, irresistible. Someone was not doing the driving, the car was—the car and the music. Then all of a sudden the engine died, leaving only fear and Bjørk’s high-pitched wails calling out to the wooden shacks, to the smells, to the moonlight on the corrugated-iron roofs, and to the noises coming from the cheap TVs, shouting in reply and mingling with the sounds of excited laughter, of voices coming closer and closer until they formed a circle around her and would not let her go. After that everything happened fast, too fast for her to panic or shout or run away. She no longer remembers how many of them there were, but she will always blame herself, even more than for driving into the favela, for the disgustingly poetic falsification she came up with afterwards out of sheer self-preservation: that it had been like a black cloud. She had been enveloped by a black cloud. And then she had screamed, of course, it had hurt, of course, but as her clothes were being ripped off, there had been laughter, unforgettable laughter, strident and ecstatic, a sound next to the sound welling up out of a world that had never existed for her before, a hate and a rage so deep that they could swallow you up forever, and yet just as that hysterical shriek rang out, panting voices had urged each other on—something she would remember as long as she lived. They had not bothered to kill her, but had simply left her behind as if she were rubbish. Perhaps that had been the worst thing, the way the voices had disappeared again, back into their own lives, in which she had been a mere incident. Later the police asked her what she had been doing in that area, and obviously she knew that what they were really saying was that it had all been her fault, when in fact the thing she did actually blame herself for was that humiliating lie about the cloud, because clouds don’t rip your clothes off, men do. It is men who force their way into your body and into your life, leaving behind a puzzle that you will never be able to solve. Or rather that I will never be able to solve, since that someone was me, the same me who is now on the other side of the world, lying beside a man who is as dark as they were, a man who has taken nothing of mine, who is a mystery to me and will soon go away again. I am not sure whether my being here is a good thing, though why wouldn’t it be? Because he doesn’t know why I’m here. Not the real reason anyway. And he is never going to find out. In that sense I am deceiving him.

I am here to exorcise a demon; he is here to have sex with me. Or so I assume. In any case that is what we have done. A week, he said, not longer. Then he has to go back to his mob. His mob, his clan—that is how they refer to it here. But he hasn’t told me where his mob is. Somewhere in the outback, somewhere in this country’s endless space. I have no idea what is going through his mind. Maybe he is also deceiving me. Can someone lie who scarcely says a word?

He is asleep, and when he’s asleep, he is time itself. These are the oldest people on earth, and they have lived in this country for at least forty thousand years. You can’t get any closer to eternity than that. I went for a drive one night in s’o Paulo and ended up here. Not exactly, but that is how I think of it. I shouldn’t be thinking such things, but no one can forbid me to think them. I stare at the man asleep beside me. As young as he is, he looks as though he has lived a thousand years. He is lying on the ground, curled up like an animal. When he opens his eyes, he is as old as the rocks, as old as the lizards you see in the desert, although he wears his age lightly because he moves lightly, as if he cannot feel the weight of his body. I tell myself that this is as big a lie as the other one, but that’s not true. I have become involved in something I have no control over, because my time here does not count. Every once in a while, when he and I are out in the desert—in a country that consists almost entirely of desert—when he points out things that I have failed to see, when he all but becomes the land itself and knows where to find water in places I would never be able to find it, when I feel humbled in the face of his immeasurable age, which allows him to see food where I see sand, then I think—against my better judgement—that I left my house that night in order to arrive at this place. I left the heaviness of the tropics, where all is motion and noise, to arrive at this stillness.