This novel is set in Genoa, the labyrinthine port city (nicknamed ‘the Superb’) where the author has been living for the past five years. Migration is the central theme of this autobiographical story about a writer who becomes trapped in his walk on the wild side.
‘Emigrating is like writing a new novel, without yet knowing the plot, the ending, nor even the characters that will turn out to be crucial to the progress of the story,’ says Ilja Leonardo Pfeijffer, the self-confident ‘Italophile’ who addresses us in La Superba. In a long letter home he reports on his life as an explorer in Genoa and contrasts his fate with that of the dirt poor migrant workers from Africa who can barely keep their heads above water.La Superba is more than a touching story about fortune seekers who fall through the cracks.
The novel starts with the discovery, by the narrator, of a woman’s leg on the street. That leg will pop up repeatedly in his search for ‘the most beautiful girl in Genoa’, a quest that brings him into contact with the prostitutes, locals and outsiders of the port’s rougher districts and seaman’s bars. This is a pocket edition of Dante’s Inferno, written by an author who admits that he likes to exaggerate: ‘Let’s call it an exercise in style. But the fact that I exaggerate doesn’t mean what I say is untrue.’
Eventually the main character becomes hopelessly lost in his own fantasies, leaving his readers with the feeling they have been hallucinating while roaming through a metropolis. The destination was irrelevant; it was the journey that mattered. And anyone in danger of losing the thread could cling to the style of their guide, to those dynamic sentences full of depravity and high contemplation that Pfeijffer has produced in such quantities since his award-winning debut novel Rupert: A Confession (2002).
“Pfeijffer’s prose shocks and disturbs, and the reader both rejects what he says and yearns to hear more. . . . While the plot itself wanders, three predominant themes emerge: sexual identity, storytelling, and immigration, each a catalyst for transformation. . . . The book asks readers to reconsider the fragility of their own lives and identities and how easily they can be tested by mere relocation. It’s a sympathetic approach to the hidden struggles that immigrants of all backgrounds in Europe face, and a call to be more open and receptive to those on the outskirts of society — after all, it could easily be you.”
— Alina Cohen, Los Angeles Review of Books
“Abundantly rich in provocative thought.”
— Anna Patterson, World Literature Today
“If Italo Calvino decided to make one of his invisible cities visible, the result might look something like Pfeijffer’s Genoa: rooted in the real world of Europe in the age of mass migration, but abstract and mythic enough that the legendary Genoese travelers — Columbus, the Ostrogoths — could still find their way through its labyrinthine streets.”
— Benjamin Moser, author of Why This World: A Biography of Clarice Lispector
“Tragedy and comedy, life and death, sex and love–these are just a few of the themes explored by Pfeijffer in his wise, brave, gripping novel.”
— Willard Manus, Lively Arts
“Deranged and hilarious…With a raucous style and barbed wit.”
— Peter Simek, D Magazine
“An enjoyable—and sometimes very funny—ride. Pfeijffer’s style is easy-going, but the poet in him remains attentive to language throughout: for all the casual feel of the novel, it’s also a carefully, even precisely written one. Good fun.”
— Michael Orthofer, The Complete Review
“Pfeijffer’s self-deprecating humor and moments of lyricism make La Superba a gem.”
— Rachel Cordasco, Bookishly Witty
“It’s witty throughout, it’s well written and it’s an ode to the imagination.”
— NRC Handelsblad
“You read his salutary, pleasure-seeking prose to feast upon language. Bravissimo.”
“De advocaat balanceert magistraal op het dunne koord tussen tragedie en komedie, realistisch drama en metabeschouwing, slapstick en ontroering. Voortdurend refereert het stuk aan zichzelf en zijn niet geringe ambitie: Pfeijffer meets Shakespeare meets Pirandello in het Nederland van de 21e eeuw.” (juryrapport Toneelschrijfprijs 2017)
Theatre Group Maastricht has made a stage adaptation of Ilja’s autobiographical work ‘Letters from Genoa’. Actors Servé Hermans and Michel Sluysmans will be accompanied by soprano Lies Verholle, who sings aria’s by Monteverdi, Puccini and Arditi.
Letters from Genoa is the natural counterpart to La Superba. It takes place largely in its title city and discusses La Superba and how it was received. However, it is a completely different book. The fictional author from La Superba gives way to a character with the same name living in the barren, frightening place called reality. All letters are real and as far as possible, have actually been sent. In the letters, the writer reflects not only on his existence as a writer, on writing itself, on his youth in Rijswijk and his years at Leiden University, but also on events happening in the world. While writing the letters, a great love story unfolds that changes everything. The result is irritatingly sharp-witted, painfully funny and heart-wrenchingly honest.
“Top dog from the first to the last page.”
– The Post Online
“Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer exposes himself and many colleagues in a monumental, jam-packed book of letters. Brieven uit Genoa is shamelessly villainous, but at the same time animated and tender. And above all intelligently composed.”
– De Morgen
“Ilja, a rheumatic, droopy Labrador and relentless yapper in one titanic body. Ilja, the big, long-winded, golden boy hanging on the chandeliers of literature. Ilja, with all his love affairs collapsing under his cholesterol level, his passions and his disgust, his language that gushes out of any armour.”
“He invaded poetry like Genghis Khan. His scorched verses crushed the serfs and left them trembling with fear and awe. And then he went silent. He spent the next seven years thinking about the world and words. And now comes Idyllen: a tidal wave of salty questions and dark conclusions that swell in the sea at night while the abandoned sloops creak in the harbour and fishermen’s nets weep. In the classical form of rhyming alexandrine verse rolling in and out like waves over pebbles, Idyllen steadily washes away more and more certainties. Winter comes. These are probably the last idylls we shall ever read.
After years of stylistic shifts, Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer has returned as a poet with a long-awaited collection that became an instant classic of Dutch poetry.”
With Idyllen (Idylls), critically acclaimed poet and novelist Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer attempts to reach higher ground. This large volume of poems leaves the more experimental forms that Pfeijffer explored in the past behind; the book consists of 50 long cantos in thundering alexandrines.
‘Pfeijffer fuses all his poetical power, desire and mastership in Idyllen’, this year’s jury report states. ‘These poetic outpourings render a mourning poet’s elegy about the downfall of poetry and the world. With a large amount of bravado, that is surprisingly alternated by moving insightful moments, Pfeijffer elaborates on his views on society and the art of writing poetry. This book is filled with merry discoveries, deep and extremely banal thoughts, elaborate allusions to the poetic tradition, sizzling metaphors and a truly eccentric poetical standpoint. This collection sings, creaks, fables, dreams and is permeated by a poet’s unstoppable dream’.
Throughout this rumbling and lyrical book, Pfeijffer meditates on larger questions by paying attention to the smallest observations. ‘These Idylls are primarily a farewell to the idyllic, fully aware of finiteness and transiency: “And what I wrote or said, is suavely erased by the waves of the sea. And at the end murmurs the murmuring of the sea”‘.
“In Idyllen, Pfeijffer brings all his poetic power,longing and mastery into one. In undulating, highly inventive, rhyming alexandrines, these poetic outpourings interpret the lamentation of a poet mourning the downfall of the world and poetry.”
– from the VSB Poetry Prize jury report
“Every bit of this collection flows and rolls with rhythm and verve, giving it a tipsy, intoxicating effect. The fifty idylls are on average three to four pages long. The whole thing reads like a train—or, to use one of Pfeijffer’s images, like a ship on the ever-rolling sea.”
At 4pm on June 1st 2008, a poet weighing upwards of 100 kilos and a petite Russian photographer decided to set off from Leiden on their bikes, with the idea of reaching Rome. They hadn’t trained, he was particularly unfit and they weren’t well-prepared, or any kind of prepared. She was riding a yellow mountainbike, the colour yellow being the main factor, and he’d bought a second-hand Batavus for @euro@95 from the Turkish repairman at the corner. A change of clothing, water and her heavy bike chain were in his rucksack.
Forty-one days and 2600 kilometres later they arrived in the Campo dei Fiori at the heart of the Eternal City. This book is the account of that journey in words and images. A journey via Zoeterwoude-Dorp, Tilburg, Marseille, Genua and Pisa, over hills, mountains and valleys, via wine cellars and truckers caffs, carparks and motorways, seaside resorts and wild boar-infested forests – a journey that changed their lives and transformed their relationship.
Every generation has its book of Greek myths. Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer has written one for the 21st century.
Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer took the poetry world by storm in 1998 with his debut collection Van de vierkante man and has been a fixture in the Dutch literary landscape ever since. His poetic and literary sources predate our own literary culture by centuries. Pfeijffer is a classicist, educated at Leiden University, where he earned his PhD with a dissertation on three victory odes by Pindar. He went on to publish on poets such as Bacchylides, Sappho and Anacreon.
In De Griekse mythen, Pfeijffer turns back to his old love. In his masterful style, he writes the greatest stories of Ancient Greece for the modern-day reader. He recounts the stories of Zeus and Hera, the heroes Heracles and Theseus, the Argonauts and the Trojan War, and the superhuman characters of Orpheus, Perseus, and of course, Prometheus. These myths galore are presented as a grand, majestic epic tracing the creation of heaven and earth to the return of Odysseus.
Gods, humans and other earthlings: Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer tells a tale that has fascinated humanity for 3,000 years. De Griekse mythen is sure to be embraced and cherished by the affectionate grammar-school student and the curious unschooled reader alike.
Rupert has been accused of a terrible crime, and his imagined defense begins the night he met the love of his life, Mira. By turns shockingly honest, incredibly funny, and clearly unhinged, Rupert’s defense includes rants about the properly formed insult and men who wear comfortable sweaters. It also visits the memory-sites of Rupert and Mira’s short-lived affair: her apartment, their favorite cafés and restaurants, and the city’s public squares.
With each story Rupert attaches to these places his defense becomes a little more outlandish, while he becomes increasingly convinced that his innocence is beyond doubt. When he reaches the end of his defense, delivering the decisive blow against his accusers and describing the scene of the crime, the full depth of Rupert’s depravity is finally revealed.
Rupert: A Confession is a brilliantly composed monologue that fully exposes—despite the misdirection and bizarre revelations of its teller—the innermost workings of a confused mind. Recalling Neil LaBute’s In the Company of Men,Rupert: A Confession is simultaneously offensive, funny, and compelling, and it serves as a perfect introduction to one of the most talented and controversial writers at work in the Netherlands today.
“Frenzied in its imagination, unusually spirited, beautifully lyrical and furthermore, unexpectedly intense when the hero’s sexual perversions hit the page. A pleasure to read.”
—NRC Handelsblad (Amsterdam)
“Rupert is an astonishing work of art. Astonishing in its imaginative force, its adventurous concept and its just as daring denouement. . . . Phew, what language, what a book. Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer is a writer to cherish.”
“This novel belongs to the tradition of classical literature which is in principle self-referential. . . . Rupert is a playful, exceptionally witty, ironic variant of this.”
After his avant-garde Pirandello-esque novel, Real Life, Ilja Pfeijffer decided to try out other lives, namely Se- cond Life, a multi-player virtual world accessed via the internet. Economists are fascinated by Second Life which has its own parallel economy and is inhabited by 6 million people world-wide as well as many top name commercial companies, banks, universities and employment agencies. In Second Life you can do anything, be anyone. For some it is a nerd’s paradise with a thriving sex industry and an island where Dungeons and Dra- gons comes to life, for others it is the future.
Written as weekly journalist dispatches from the inside, Pfeijffer explores the fascinating alternative world of Second Life and asks himself what we are doing there, why we are doing it and what is tells us about First Life.
Real Life: a Novel is a book in the tradition of Italo Calvino’s ground-breaking IF ON A WINTER NIGHT’S A TRAVELER. It is at once a gripping and enchanting story which takes the reader away from their own dire, difficult, dark existence and allows them to escape to a bright new world, and an exposure of that bright new world. Where do truth and fiction part company? Is our hero fighting an exciting military campaign in Russia, or sitting in a bar in Amsterdam? This entirely fictional, unusually original extravaganza is a delight from the first to the last. Pfeijffer bears no comparison but if needs must, the Dutch David Mitchell will do.
An astonishing and shocking literary epic about the world of dredging. You will never read anything else like this.
A man who works on a dredging boat bumps into a small boy during shore leave in an exotic city.Their collusion results in sabotage, a violent death of a crew member, accusations of kidnapping, organ trading, whoring and worse. In the meantime, a lovely and unexpected bond is forming between the tough dredger and the small, frightened boy.
Recounted by the unstoppable narrator during his later psychoanalytic sessions, this is an inspired novel with unforgettable voice which brings to mind Magnus Mills and Irvine Welsh.
Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer (1968) is a phenomenon. He has manifested himself as a poet, critic, novelist, essay- ist and demolisher of reputations (including his own). He has a PhD in ancient Greek and has won many literary prizes.
“Delightful linguistic fireworks”
– De Standaard
“A masterpiece drunk on words, very suitable for readers who detest intertextuality or any kind of postmodern schpiel”
In De Antieken, Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer tells classical literature’s tale from Homer to the fall of Rome. He does so in ways that are so infectious, so original that they are sure to pique the interests of even those who cannot boast a classical education. All the giants of classical literature are passed in review in this compact volume, offering essential information about their lives and backgrounds. De Antieken is an indispensable guide and a pleasant travel companion on a journey of discovery into the wealth of Greek and Roman literature.
“De Antieken is a valuable guide for anyone who wishes to discover classical writers or refresh their knowledge.”
From first poem to last, Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer’s debut collection is remarkable for both its rich imagery and sounds and its varied themes and compositions. His ‘butter-baked images and bulimic verses’—as promised in the tone-setting opening poem—are combined and varied with subtle attitudes toward poetic tradition and prosaic reality. The poems are jarring in their evocative directness. This much is clear: Pfeijffer is not your sober, straightforward poet.