Intimacies is a story about interpersonal connections–deep rooted and shallow–and how they grow and die.
The narrator and main character has relocated from New York City to The Hague, where she works as an interpreter at the international court (the Court). Her father has recently died and her mother has moved to Singapore. The novel describes her relationships with, and observations of, her friends, coworkers, acquaintances, lover and the accused criminals for whom she must interpret.
The interpreter’s first and closest friend in The Hague is Janna. Janna is divorced and in her forties, and is the curator of the Mauritshuis, an art gallery in The Hague. “Janna had grown up in Belgrade with a Serbian mother and Ethiopian father…” The friends usually go out to dinner but Janna has invited the unnamed interpreter to her apartment for dinner. Janna has purchased the apartment in a transitioning neighborhood where there is quite a bit of crime. The narrator perceives Janna in many different ways while she is visiting her apartment. Initially, she is envious of the manner in which Janna has been able to inhabit her space with such ease. When sirens in the neighborhood drown out their conversation, Janna displays unease and “the remainder of the evening passed under a cloud of preoccupation…” Their relationship is ever shifting.
The narrator is romantically involved with the very handsome Adriaan. Adriaan is married to Gaby and they have two children. Gaby has left Adriaan and is living with another man and the two children in Lisbon. Early in the relationship, the Adriaan and the interpreter had gone to a party and the interpreter had met a man named Kees, who told her about Adriaan’s marital situation. Kees was leering at the interpreter and she finds him obnoxious. She soon learns that he is a well-regarded defense lawyer and encounters him again in a case. “The appearance of simplicity is not the same thing as simplicity itself.”
Janna invites the interpreter and Adriaan to dinner and it will be the first time they have met. The interpreter is late for dinner and Adriaan and Janna have had the time to get to know one another outside her presence. “I saw that some intimacy had been established between them.” The situation makes her uncomfortable and the relationship between Janna and the interpreter continues to shift. Janna tells them about a man who was mugged in front of her building and hospitalized due to his injuries. The interpreter is struck by the story.
The interpreter’s job is challenging. “…it was our job not only to interpret the words the subject was speaking, but also to express or indicate the demeanor, the nuance and intention behind their words.”
The interpreter is contacted by her supervisor and asked to take on a unique task. A well know “jihadist who stood accused of four counts of crimes against humanity and five counts of war crimes” was being extradited to The Hague. The narrator is asked to interpret for him while he is in detention. The experience is intense and the responsibility continues throughout his trial. The defendant attempts to pull her into his emotional orbit and she is continually battling the temptation.
The interpreter attends an exhibit opening at Janna’s gallery and meets Janna’s friend, Eline. The two have an immediate connection and Eline invites her to her home for dinner, where the interpreter meets Eline’s twin brother, Anton. Anton is the man who was mugged in front of Janna’s building. “…the shadow of loneliness had crept upon me as I watched Eline and her brother…they shared an air of intimate collusion, of things implied and understood.”
Adriaan tells the interpreter that he is going to Lisbon for a week to ask Gaby for a divorce and he asks her to move into his apartment while he is gone. She is elated and feels a level of closeness to him that gives her hope for the future. A month later he has not returned. Her world shifts again. “I had felt the shape and meaning of his absence begin to change.”
Each relationship results in a constant shifting of feelings, perceptions and intimacies. The novel is short, intense, thought provoking, well written and ends with hope. I highly recommend this novel and you can reserve it at the Cuyahoga County Public Library by clicking here.