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Zacht als Staal

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Een moeder reist van het Zuid-Afrikaanse platteland naar Amsterdam om het lichaam van haar zoon op te halen. Gedreven door plichtsbesef en schuldgevoel onderneemt ze een bizarre zoektocht door een voor haar onbekende wereld om haar zoons leven en dood te reconstrueren.

Bijgestaan door een cokedealende rasta weet ze een bonte stoet vrienden en bekenden te achterhalen – knipnichten, koffie-moffies, hoerenjongens, rampenjagers. Maar lang niet iedereen draagt haar een warm hart toe en sommigen willen bepaalde feiten liever verborgen houden in de achterkamertjes van het nachtleven. Tijdens haar zoektocht begint Alma te beseffen hoezeer zij zelf heeft bijgedragen aan de ondergang van haar zoon.

Zacht als Staal is de ontroerende en bij vlagen hilarische opvolger van Richard de Nooys debuutroman Zes beetwonden en een tetanusprik (2008), die eerst in het Engels verscheen en in Zuid-Afrika werd bekroond met het Best First Book Award van de Universiteit van Johannesburg.

208 pages, Paperback

First published August 1, 2010

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About the author

Richard de Nooy

13 books45 followers
Richard de Nooy (1965) grew up in Johannesburg, but has lived in Amsterdam for more than 35 years. He writes novels, short stories and non-fiction in English and Dutch.

He is currently translating his latest book, Verraad op Huize Zwaluwenburg, which was published by Nijgh & Van Ditmar in the Netherlands in 2022. The book is based on his mother’s experiences as a trainee nurse at a psychiatric institution for women and girls in the Netherlands during World War II. The author went in search of people mentioned in his mother’s stories, finding books, unpublished memoires, interviews, letters and even a journal written by a Jewish refugee hiding at the institution. Together their stories form a human tapestry that captures the heroism and tragedy of life at the Zwaluwenburg.

De Nooy's debut novel, Six Fang Marks and a Tetanus Shot (Jacana, 2007), won the University of Johannesburg Prize for Best First Book. It was later published in Dutch as Zes beetwonden en een tetanusprik (Nijgh & Van Ditmar, 2008) in the Netherlands.

De Nooy was awarded a grant by the Dutch Foundation for Literature to write his second novel in Dutch. Zacht als Staal was published in August 2010 and was long-listed for the prestigious AKO Literatuurprijs 2011. It was published in English as The Big Stick (Jacana, 2011) in South Africa.

De Nooy's third novel, Zendingsdrang, was published in Dutch by Nijgh & Van Ditmar in January 2013. The English edition was published as The Unsaid by Jacana in South Africa in 2014.

His most recent novel, Van kleine helden, was published in Dutch in the Netherlands in May 2017. The English edition of this book has not yet been published, because De Nooy was distracted by six years of research and writing on his first work of non-fiction, Verraad op Huize Zwaluwenburg.

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Displaying 1 - 10 of 10 reviews
Profile Image for Nerine Dorman.
Author 64 books210 followers
August 26, 2013
Where do I even begin? This is also going onto my list of top reads for 2013. Very complex thoughts surrounding this novel, which is pertinent whether you are gay or straight.

FULL REVIEW (appeared in September 2013 issue of The Pink Tongue)

It’s not often that a novel lands on my desk that I feel everyone should make an effort to read, but The Big Stick is definitely one of them. Richard de Nooy draws us into Amsterdam of the early 1980s, before the Aids epidemic cast its pall over the various communities. We meet Alma Nel, who’s travelled all the way from Zeerust in the very Afrikaans and conservative Transvaal, to fetch the body of her deceased son Staal. But while Alma’s in Amsterdam, she also seeks to unravel the events leading up to her gay son’s death and, in a way, gain a better understanding of who her child really was.

There is no doubt in my mind that De Nooy is a master storyteller, and paints out the story from multiple points of view and using different voices. Though we never see with Staal’s eyes, his story is told by a narrator who reminisces about his own perception of events, and interspersed with this are third-person accounts from Alma’s point of view and, threaded throughout this, interview-style first-person accounts from people who were close to Staal during various stages in his life.

Sounds disjointed? Definitely not. Somehow these assorted tellings hang together seamlessly and enrich the reader’s experience. Each narrator holds but a fragment of Staal’s life, coloured by their worldview. These are threaded together as one would create a beaded necklace, a bigger picture emerges.

Staal’s innocence is exquisite, though don’t mistake his naïveté for lack of intelligence. He is a sensitive, giving soul and, through the eyes of others, one begins to realise he might even be too good for this world. One can’t help but be affected by him, so it’s with a sense of wistfulness that I turned the pages knowing as I did right from the start that this wonderful young man had met with a violent end. The Big Stick is also about not taking people at face value, and realising the complexities of the masks that we wear. If we took just that little bit of time to look beneath the surface, we might find ourselves surprised by what we discover.

The Big Stick is more than just a murder mystery, it’s a tale that captures the spirit of place that needs to be remembered, be it casual cruelties or times of boundless possibilities. While we discover who Staal was, we also have the opportunity to examine our own preconceptions and what they say about us as people. Poignant doesn’t even begin to cover it.
Profile Image for Nicolas Chinardet.
384 reviews83 followers
March 6, 2016
An enjoyable read with some strong, interesting characters. Although the author is straight he gives a credible insight the gay subculture.

Not being familiar with either South Africa or Amsterdam I felt I missed out on the finer elements of the culture clash depicted in the book which obviously constitutes a major part of it but that didn't distract from the overall enjoyment.

An incredibly broad and colourful canvas for such a short book.
Profile Image for Eddie Clarke.
225 reviews49 followers
March 6, 2016
I enjoyed this book - the second I've read in 6 months to look at the SADF's forced 'treatment' of gay conscripts, set around the time I was a conscript in Pretoria. Although De Nooy sensibly keeps this to a brief episode tangentially explored : a ploy which seems to add to its horrific power.

De Nooy's style is energetic and vivacious, and he tells his story via a number of 1st person accounts, so gradually a full picture of Staal and his tragedy emerges. Nevertheless, there are many lighter moments and some comedy in the culture clash of a conservative Afrikaner woman exploring the gay culture of Amsterdam in the 1980s.

I would say the South African and Dutch backgrounds and characters were spot-on. Less successful (in the English version of the book) was the treatment of the Polish rent boy - his fractured English not conforming to the spoken word of the Polish immigrants in my experience. However, this is not a serious shortfall in an otherwise very diverting read.
Profile Image for Rodeweeks.
203 reviews15 followers
May 3, 2021
A humorously sad story. It shows the struggle of a homosexual in a small town in South Africa and the happiness he found at last when he is accepted in Amsterdam in the Netherlands. I felt deeply sad while reading the book, shaking my head in sorrow because of the way people treat other people just because they are different or do not want to be the same as everyone else.
Profile Image for Richard.
Author 13 books45 followers
November 12, 2010
Klik hier voor een volledig overzicht van alle recensies.

Ezra de Haan, Literatuurplein.nl: "[...] Richard de Nooy laat met deze roman zien dat er een keerzijde aan de liefde is, dat die mensen blind maakt en foute beslissingen veroorzaakt. Maar dat is slechts het verhaal van deze schitterende roman, het tweede deel van een nog te voltooien drieluik. Belangrijker is het spel met de taal van de auteur die werkelijk ieder personage in dit boek een eigen stem geeft. Zacht als taal verdient door een groot publiek gelezen te worden. Het is lang geleden dat ik een roman las waarin zo goed en zo soepel de Nederlandse taal werd toegepast. Misschien is het een goed idee Zacht als Staal voor te schrijven als lesmateriaal op de diverse schrijversvakscholen…" [Meer...]

Jaap Goedgedbuure, Tirade.nu: "[...] Misschien biedt De Nooy’s betrekkelijk late start wel een verklaring voor de vulkaanachtige heftigheid van het werk dat hij tot nu toe publiceerde (al kun je je natuurlijk ook afvragen of hij van het lange wachten niet juist milder is geworden). De verhaallijn van Six Fang Marks and a Tetanus Shot staat bol van geweld, in enkele gevallen zelfs met dodelijke afloop, en is vormgegeven met behulp van een zwiepende en striemende stijl. Zacht als Staal, zijn net verschenen tweede, in het Nederlands geschreven roman, kent een vergelijkbaar recept." [Meer...]

Erik Feenstra, gay.blog.nl: "Zacht als Staal is een roman die je niet meer weglegt, wanneer je eraan bent begonnen: het boeit, ontroert en leest ‘in één ruk uit’. De sfeer van Amsterdam in de 80er jaren doet met weemoed terugdenken naar die tijd en de auteur weet de roze couleur locale geraffineerd neer te zetten, niet gespeend van valse nichtenhumor, bijnamen en sappige beeldspraak." [Meer...]
Profile Image for Jayne Bauling.
Author 61 books64 followers
May 31, 2012
What a brilliant book, one of my best reads so far this year.

Funny and tragic, this is the story of Staal who grew up in Zeerust in South Africa in the 1980s. Being gay in such an environment, he suffered misunderstanding and various abuses, inluding a dose of the SADF's notorious aversion therapy, before being exiled to Holland. Set in Amsterdam around 1986, the book brings the gay scene there to vivid life. Staal's almost immediate sense of having found his pack is deeply touching.

Staal himself is the sweetest boy, and the book is full of other wonderful characters encountered by both Staal and his mother Alma when she arrives in the city desperate to track the events leading up to his death. The dialogue is gorgeous - you really do hear the voices as you read.

It's a short novel, and moves along at a rapid pace. I loved it.
Profile Image for Richard.
Author 13 books45 followers
December 22, 2011
My latest novel is finally available in English in South Africa

You can read an excerpt here.

Readers outside South Africa can order it here (or by sending an email to lanore@jacana.co.za).

I'll be posting the latest reviews here.

Wishing you pleasant reading!

Profile Image for Tiah.
Author 10 books69 followers
February 25, 2012
What one would expect from Richard: comic wit cloaked in deep tragedy. Or Quentin Tarantino without the guns.
Displaying 1 - 10 of 10 reviews

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