Novelist, political activist, essayist, and sometime movie director Leon deWinter wrote this mystery-spy thriller-philosophical novel in 1990. It became a huge success in Europe and was subsequently translated from the original Dutch into English for American audiences.
It is interesting that the author chose Baruch Spinoza as the philosophical thread that ties together the other various, and somewhat disparate, themes of the novel. Just what do Spinoza, infidelity, the Holocaust, political intrigue, bulimia, alcoholism, and obsessive compulsive disorder have to do with one another?
Felix Hoffman, the overeating protagonist, reads Spinoza as both an intellectual escape from his troubled life, and in search of some formula of what it means to experience happiness. Spinoza was cut off from his community for his radical ideas about the nature of God, and rather than submit to the authority of the Jewish community, chose a lonely path of intellectual pursuit for “the truth.” Felix, a Holocaust survivor who was hidden by Christians, has little to do with his own Jewish community, by his own choice, after the discovery that his parents perished in the camps. His wife Marian becomes, for him, the ultimate happiness and more so when she gives him twin daughters, Miriam and Esther. Felix has found in life what Spinoza writes of in his treatise, but it is not to last long. The death of young Esther from childhood leukemia, followed years later by the suicide of her twin, Miriam, ends all hope of lasting happiness for Felix and Marion. They both are unfaithful in their marriage, unable to bear the pain of losing their children.
Marian, a scholar, pours her efforts into researching and writing a book that will never be finished. And Felix eats to fill the void that will never be filled from the loss of his daughters. His career as a diplomat has not been filled with promise and he puts it in even greater jeopardy by an ill-advised affair with a double agent as a last attempt to find happiness, or to fill the hunger in his soul that will not be sated.
There are plot turns and twists, revealed connections between people that will bring the book to an ultimate climax of redemption and in some measure, happiness for Felix Hoffman, his hunger for food replaced by a sense of contentment, which may be what the ultimate happiness is for all of us.