Author Arnon Yasha Yves Grunberg was born in Amsterdam in 1971. He lives and works in New York City.
Grunberg was kicked out of high school at age seventeen. He started his own publishing company called Kasimir, specializing in non-Aryan German literature, at the age of nineteen, acted and wrote plays. When he was only twenty-three years old, his first novel Blue Mondays became a bestseller in Europe and won the Anton Wachter Prize. It has been translated in thirteen languages.
His novel Silent Extras was published in 1997 and has sold more than 100,000 copies.
In 1998 he wrote the novel Saint Anthony for the Dutch “Week of the Books”. 701,000 copies were published. His collection of essays entitled The Comfort of Slapstick was published the same year.
His first screenplay, The Fourteenth Chicken, was released as a movie in the fall of 1998, coinciding with the premiere of You Are Also Very Attractive When You Are Dead, a play Grunberg wrote for German and Israeli actors and which has been performed in Düsseldorf and Tel Aviv.
Grunberg’s novel Phantom Pain was published in 2000 and went on to win the AKO Prize, the Dutch equivalent of the Booker. The English translation of this novel was shortlisted for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award in 2005.
Grunberg was commissioned by the city of Rotterdam and the publishing house Athenaeum-Polak & van Gennep to write a contemporary version of Erasmus’ In Praise of Folly. This book, In Praise of Mankind, came out in 2001 and won the Golden Owl Award for the best book a year later. 2001 also saw the publication of Amuse-Bouche, a collection of his short stories.
Under the name Marek van der Jagt, Grunberg wrote the novel The Story of My Baldness, for which he won for the second time the Anton Wachter Prize, a prize for the best debut novel. He became the first novelist in the history of this prize to have won it twice. The Story of My Baldness won the Aspekte Prize in Germany.
Again under the name Marek van der Jagt, in 2002, Grunberg published the essay Monogamous, the essay chosen that year for the “Week of the Books”. Another Marek van der Jagt work, the novel Gstaad 95-98, was published in 2002 and was introduced by Arnon Grunberg in Vienna.
In 2002 Grunberg won the German NRW Literature Prize for all his books translated into German, including those by Marek van der Jagt.
In 2003 his novel The Asylum Seeker was published in the Netherlands and hailed as his best novel to date.
In 2004 he published a collection of short stories, Grunberg Around the World, and a novella, Monkey Grabbing Hold of Happines. September 2004 his novel The Jewish Messiah was published.
In 2004 he won the prestigious Bordewijk Prize for The Asylum Seeker.Also he won for this novel for the second time the AKO Prize. Grunberg is the only author till now to win this prize twice.
From September 2004 till November 2005 he was the anchorman for the weekly Dutch cultural TV show R.A.M.
In 2005 The Jewish Messiah was on the shortlist of both the Golden Owl and the AKO Prize.In the spring of 2005 he gave a masterclass at the Technical University in Delft, the Netherlands, on “the technique of suffering”. Fall 2005 The Technique of Suffering was published. The book contains his lectures and a description of the machines that the students built under his supervision.
Also in 2005 The Grunberg Bible was published, the best from the Old and the New Testament according to Grunberg.
In the same year he edited a collection of stories from Eastern Europe, Fear Defeats Everything.
In September 2006 his novel Tirza was published. With this novel he won his second Golden Owl Award and the Libris Prize. It has sold more than 300,000 copies.
Because I Desire You, a collection of letters, was published in 2007.
His novel Our Uncle was published in September 2008.
A collection of reports from 2006 till 2008, Chambermaids and Soldiers, was published early 2009.
In the autumn of 2009 The Betrayal of the Text was published, a collection of Grunberg's reading about war and truth, during his guest lectureship at Leiden University, as well as essays and short stories of his students.
He was guest writer at Wageningen University in September and October 2009.
In December 2009 Grunberg received the Constantijn Huygens Prize for his complete oeuvre, followed by the Frans Kellendonk prize in 2010.
His novel Huid en Haar (Tooth and Nail) was published in October 2010.
In the spring of 2011 Grunberg wrote a play, De Hollanders (directed by Gerardjan Rijnders), about the return of Dutch soldiers from Afghanistan, for students of the Amsterdam Theater School. The premiere was in De Kleine Komedie in Amsterdam on the 22nd of June 2011.
Grunberg was awarded with the Flemish KANTL Prize for his novel Tirza in July.
In October 2011 De Mensendokter was published.
In February 2012 a first collection of Arnon Grunberg's daily column in the Dutch newspaper Volkskrant, Voetnoot (Footnote), was published.
In May 2012 his novel De man zonder ziekte was published.
In February 2013 Grunberg's collected essays about film, Buster Keaton lacht nooit ("Buster Keaton never laughs") came out.
In November 2013 a collection of short stories, Apocalypse was published.
In January 2015 his play Our Mothers premiered.
The following month the novella Het bestand came out.
Grunberg was a honorary fellow at the University of Amsterdam in January and February 2015.
In May 2016 his novel Birthmarks came out.
On June 18th 2016 the play The Future of Sex premiered.
In January 2017 Grunberg was awarded the Gouden Ganzenveer, a prize for his major contribution to the written word.
In May 2017 Thuis ben je, a collection of travel stories, was published.
June 1st 2017 was the premiere of De Mensheid, in which Grunberg played one of the leading roles.
The play De tweede wereldoorlog eindigt vandaag premiered on May 4th 2018.
In September 2018 he published the novel Goede mannen.
The essay Vriend en vijand ('Friend and foe') on Carl Schmitt, was published in February 2019.
In June 2019, Van achterdocht tot zelfgenoegzaamheid ('From distrust to complacency') was published, a collection of treatises on modern humans.
For the academic year of 2019-2020, Grunberg was chosen to be the Vrije Schrijver ('Writer in residence') of the Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam to reflect on the theme of Governance for society.
He published the novel Bezette gebieden ('Occupied territories') in January 2020.
On the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, his anthology Bij ons in Auschwitz ('We were in Auschwitz') was presented, containing testimonies and eyewitness accounts from the Lager.
In 2021, Slachters en Psychiaters ['Slaughterers and psychiatrists'], a collection of Arnon Grunberg's reports from December 2009 till June 2020, was published.
In the same year, he published his sixteenth novel De dood in Taormina.
In 2021 Arnon Grunberg held the position of Artist-in-Residence at the Technical University of Eindhoven during its 65th lustrum year.
In 2022 Arnon Grunberg won the Johannes Vermeer Prize and the PC Hooft Prize 2022, a literary lifetime achievement award for his entire oeuvre.
Grunberg's work has been translated into thirty different languages.
He writes reports, book reviews, columns and essays for the Dutch newspapers NRC Handelsblad and de Volkskrant, a monthly column for the Belgian magazine Humo (The Mailbox of Arnon Grunberg), for Wordt Vervolgd, the Dutch magazine of Amnesty International, and the magazine Vrij Nederland (Grunberg Helps), and a weekly column for the magazine VPRO Gids.
Regularly he publishes essays and stories in literary magazine Hollands Maandblad.
Grunberg also wrote a blog for the online literary magazine Words Without Borders from 2005 till 2010.
He contributed to for example The New York Times, The Times of London, The Guardian, Ha'aretz, Piauí, Revista Ñ, Revista CTXT, L'Espresso, Internazionale, Aftonbladet, Tages-Anzeiger, Süddeutsche Zeitung, Der Standard, Die Welt, Die Zeit, Tachles, Neue Zürcher Zeitung, SonntagsZeitung, Libération, Courrier International, Culture + Travel, Salon.com, n+1 Magazine and Bookforum.
'What is your name and where are you from?' Kristina asked.'Greenberg from Amsterdam,' I said.'All right Mr. Meanwork, would you like to take classes in the morning, the afternoon, or the evening?'
'In the afternoon,' I said, 'But my name is Greenberg.'
'Will you be paying the whole sum at once or in installments?'
A ten-week course was $330. That wasn't too bad.'We will give you a small test first, Mr. Meanwork. Someone will be with you in a moment.”
'Greenberg!' I called after her, but she had already started dealing with the next candidate.*
We would like to be able to speak in a way that doesn’t make people ask ‘Where are you from?’ or ‘How long have you been here?’ We would like to not stumble on the sounds anymore. That’s why we write. When you write, you can’t stumble on the sounds. You can mix up the past tense and the future tense, you can use one preposition where there’s supposed to be another preposition, you can conjugate a verb in the wrong way, but you can’t stumble on the sounds. A voice on paper is a voice that will never have bread crumbs sticking in the corners of its mouth, it’s a voice that will never accidentally spit while talking, it’s a voice of which nobody can tell if it’s badly shaven and nobody can stare at its teeth. You know, in a shameless way like that.**
* Amuse-Bouche, 'We Learn English by Talking to Each Other' (2001) ** Saint Anthony (1998)
On the morning of November 22 I went to the synagogue, as I did every Saturday morning. My mother was weeping and wailing. I had washed my hair with some color rinse that Rosie had managed to get hold of in bulk. My mother thanked God her parents had not lived to witness such a day.*
It was just before my bar mitzvah, and I was taking lessons three times a week from Mrs. Mohnstein. Mrs. Mohnstein tried to teach me Hebrew for six years. She never managed to impart any Hebrew, but she did teach me what it’s like to hate someone like poison. That’s something, anyway.*
We had a rabbi who used to say that God saw everything, including your crotch, so you had to be sure to wash yourself well. And also arrange to be circumcised, if you weren't already. I'd rather have my crotch looked at by God than by people on the street.**
The student members of the association were being prepared for their forthcoming emigration to the Jewish state, and he was welcomed with open arms. The Jewish state could use all comers.
He convinced the leader that it would be good for them to all jump into the Rhine together on a warm evening and let themselves be carried off downstream. Physical exercise was an absolutely essential preparation for life in a young country still under constant threat. That was music to the ears of Mr. Salomons, the leader of the youth association. At last, a potential emigrant who showed a little initiative.
And so, that summer, one could often see him swimming in the Rhine with a group of Zionists.
It was a fine sight: he out in front, behind him a group of about twenty youthful Zionists, some of them a bit nervous, others fast and bold.
There were pretty girls among them who could summon up little interest in ideology but knew all the more about the latest bathing fashion.
His first encounter with Zionism was very much to his liking. Beauty is a fine thing, but a person needs ideals that go further than aesthetics alone. Zionism was an ideal that fit him to a tee. A suit made to measure.***
* Blue Mondays (1994) ** Silent Extras (1997) *** The Jewish Messiah (2004)
That evening at dinner my father kept nodding off to sleep and my mother would hit him on the head with her spoon.“There’s a curse on this family,” he said after she had hit him awake once again. My mother lives in a world where there is neither day nor night and where there are no people left, my father waits for stock reports that I’m sure haven’t been broadcast for the past twenty years.*
My mother had told me more than once, “Your father is a turd, a turd who think’s he’s Heinrich Heine.”
One evening my father was reading the paper. My mother came in with a pot of spaghetti. Then she tipped the pot of spaghetti all over his paper. The whole pot.“Why did you do that?” I asked.“Just to show what a drunk your father is,” she said.My father stayed where he was, sitting there with the spaghetti all over his newspaper. He said, “The world has gone mad, the world has gone stark raving mad.”*
* Blue Mondays (1994)
One of the girls in our class came from a titled family, another was a Jehova’s Witness, and there were a few Jewish girls as well. The titled girl gave a party. In her parents’ garden. A class-trip reunion. She invited Koenraads, Diels, and Haaseveld too.Diels was drunk by the time he arrived. He sat in a corner and rolled a cigarette with shaking hands. The only tobacco he smoked was Javaanse Jongens. He told the story of how his mother sent him out to repair refrigerators when he was only twelve. He told that story all the time at parties. He used to have to cover almost the whole north of Amsterdam, ringing every doorbell. “Do you happen to own a broken refrigerator?” If you ask me, the experience left him with an obsession about repairs, because everywhere he went he repaired things.*
In May they kicked me out of a school a few days after I’d started trying to sell an alternative school magazine. I’d done pretty well too. Even the teachers all bought one. A day later I was summoned to see the principal. The magazine was full of obscenities. Of course it was full of them. I was suspended again, the only thing they could do.A few days later I learned that I would never have to go back again. Mrs. Haaseveld was standing in the downstairs hall. I held out my hand but she hissed, “All the trouble I took, and for nothing.” And she called after me, “My God, what I didn’t do for you, young man. If you only knew!”*
I moved to New York in January 1995. I was living in a one-bedroom apartment in Holliswood, Queens. Some people in Holland thought I was living in Hollywood. Most of the time, I didn't correct them.After the first couple of days, I already understood that there wasn't much of a difference between Amsterdam and New York. A neighbor with a vacuuming phobia is a neighbor with a vacuuming phobia, whether you live in Osdorp, Amsterdam, or Hollywood, Queens. In those early days I could never find an answer to the frequently asked question, "What is typically American?"But several weeks later, I discovered what it was: Dating.*
A friend of mine recommended that I go in group therapy. So I did, even though I didn’t feel sick. On the contrary. But he said: ‘It’s normal in America, it’s not just for sick people. Everyone does it: managers, professors, performers, very successful people, it’s nothing to be ashamed of.'**
* 'Feelings Are to Discuss, Not Have', New York Times Magazine, 06-08-1997 ** Silent Extras (1997)
After my vacation I took a job in a pharmacy owned by a man I knew from the synagogue. His name was Mr. Hausmann and he collected Smurfs. My parents thought it was a good idea for me to have a job. So I’d come to realize what time and money really meant, my father said. I had to deliver prescriptions to people who couldn’t walk anymore or who could still walk but couldn’t see.They tipped me everywhere, especially in the old age home. One woman there gave me at least ten guilders. She wanted me to eat her food. I didn’t have the slightest intention of eating her food, because it was all chopped up and mushy. All she had to do was to swallow it. Once she whispered in my ear, “I don’t want to eat ever again. I’ve eaten more than enough.” I absolutely did not want to be told that sort of thing.“You must do what is best for you,” I said. Then I ate her custard away.*
I have satisfactorily completed ‘the salesperson in real estate’ course. I have a license. I am a salesperson in real estate. A broker, they call that in Holland, a moneygrubber. It’s a fine profession. I show people houses they want to rent. I listen to their wishes. Sometimes I give them advice, or pretend to. It’s not a job that requires a lot of thought. I sell service.My real estate diploma is hanging in my kitchen, right above the stove; I never cook anyway.**
Waiter, real estate salesperson, writer of love letters on behalf of other people, pharmacy worker, actor, writer and chess teacher, gigolo, clerk, entertainer.***
He went on to work as a courier in the pharmacy industry for a while, before becoming a Yellow Pages salesman and working on the radio. At the age of twenty, he founded a publishing company, and made everyone think it was a huge company by adopting various telephone voices and pretending to be the publisher, company secretary and head of marketing.****
* Blue Mondays (1994) ** Silent Extras (1997) *** The List, 11-21-1997 **** Das Magazin, Anuschka Roshani, 2-28-2004
Finally, I had to walk up to the table and say my name loud and clear.‘Ewald Stanislas Krieg,’ I said.‘Stanislas-Krieg, is that a compound surname?’ the man asked.‘No,’ I said, ‘ Ewald Stanislas is a compound first name.’
The man wrote something down. Then he came out from behind the table and started pinching my Achilles’ tendons. I told him it tickled. He didn’t seem to be listening. After a couple of minutes he must have figured he’d messed with my legs long enough.‘Jump, Ewald Stanislas,’ he said.‘Ewald, just Ewald, that’s plenty.’
‘Jump,’ he said.
I jumped.‘Higher,’ the man said.I jumped higher.‘Higher than that,’ the man said.I jumped even higher. I was starting to feel like some kind of frog. But the man just kept shouting: ‘Higher, higher.’ I wondered why you had to break the high-jump record when all you wanted was to be an actor.*
Then drink to Marlon Brando,’ Elvira said.We all raised our glasses. ‘To Marlon Brando,’ we said.‘The young Brando, or the old Brando?’ Berk asked.‘Both,’ Broccoli said. ‘It’s our key focus at the moment. It’s still a secret, but we can tell the two of you. Operation Brando is the name of the hitherto top-secret project. It has absolute priority. If we succeed, we’ll be heroes. If not, we will know the meaning of humility for the rest of our lives.’*
* Silent Extras (1997)
During the first half of 1991 and a large part of 1992, I was a frequent visitor of the Amsterdam restaurant Panini where I'd eat penne alla pesto, only because I desired a waitress there.I sent some two hundred letters to that waitress, most by registered mail, and when this did not lead to a satisfactory outcome, I decided upon the ultimate gesture: I would write this waitress a lenghty letter and make it into a booklet.*
Standing next to Grunberg, his fiancée, a 72 year old diva with a diadem in her hair and gold-interwoven robes, who he met in a New York café.**
Beck had girlfriends, back when he was still pursuing his own happiness. Even when he was already living with the Bird; maybe even especially when he was already living with the Bird. Dozens of girlfriends, they came and went. Sometimes it would last a week, sometimes a month, sometimes a year. On the surface, those romances were always very passionate and intense. Beck enjoyed being infatuated, it went well with the happiness he systematically sought. Wherever it was, there Beck was also.Some of those girlfriends had wanted to marry him, others had only wanted to live together, yet others to live together and have children, preferably more than three. Beck wanted nothing, really, only to be happy, but such details he kept to himself.***
* Amuse-Bouche, 'Letter to M' (2001) ** Das Magazin, Anuschka Roshani, 2-28-2004 *** The Asylum Seeker (2003)
I like: Mothers, as long as they don’t have any babies or children under fifteen with them. Al Pacino. Matriarchy. Watching others cook, as long as they don’t do it in my kitchen. Watching in general: looking at people and things at my leisure. Small airports where planes land only four times a day. The guilty feeling that the company of many a woman inevitably brings with it. Dispute: via letters, Fax, or e-mail. Analysis as strategy game. People who don’t take insults lying down. Women who can enjoy a meal without being afraid of gaining an ounce. Shame, an unjustly underrated virtue. The feeling of satisfaction when I take my bed linens, underwear, and socks to the cleaners on Saturdays. J.M. Coetzee. Hotel bars and hotel whores. Hotels with maid service even in the late afternoon. The Swiss railway system. Apple cider for lunch. The Bible, both books, making no distinction. Missing something or someone, especially someone. Small inconspicuous rituals. My Apple computer. E-mail. The strange notion that after a lecture in Duisburg a woman would come up to me and say: “I have never read anything by you, but I have always wanted to sleep with you.” Heat, no matter whether it’s muggy or dry. Complaining about the heat. People who can laugh at their own insignificance. Politeness, even feigned. Newspapers. The smell of newspapers, leafing through them, their rustling sound. Bank statements so catastrophic that you can only laugh about them. Buying gifts for women. Watching those gifts being wrapped. Deadlines.*
I don’t like: Religion. The sensitivity of religious people who only half believe. Freedom demonstrations. Stewardesses. Moral indignation. Almost all interviews. Men who take on the role of “Conscience of the Nation” and emit sentences such as “Without freedom there is no future for humanity.” CNN. Soccer stadiums. John Travolta. Politics. Photographers who need a whole hour to take a single picture. Receptions. Weddings. Drinks. Crowded bars. Having to use the bathroom in a strange house. Taxi drivers who talk up a storm and pretend not to know the way. Business lunches. Business breakfasts. Crying. Women with really short hair. Waiters who bring the bill before being asked. Proust enthusiasts. Writers’ conferences. Open discussions. Literary agents. Security checks. Old people who think that they can get away with anything, just because they are old. Social engagement as hobby. All social engagement for that matter: either you do something, or you don’t, but you can’t just be engaged. Most humor. Haggling. People who think my name is Aron. Bananas. Not all democrats, but most of them. Believers, no matter whether they believe in God, the blessings of the free market, communism, or Buddha. People who say: “Now you are going too far.” People who want to avoid at all cost being seen as bourgeois. Almost all opinions. Anthologies. Writers’ bars. Artist unions. About 80% of all book sellers. Public swimming pools. Mixed saunas. Self service. People who don’t tip enough. Exaggerated optimism, and therefore almost all optimism. Anti-abortionists. Professional humanists. Almost all diplomats, at least 98% of them. People who insist on meeting you at your home, even though there are enough public places at which to meet. These modern mixed drinks. Orders, doesn’t matter of what kind or dimension, doesn’t matter by whom or where they are given.*
* ...Mag ich, mag ich nicht, ed. Daniel Keel and Daniel Kampa (2005)
I like: Trail maps. Bathing suits. The days before Christmas. Retirement communities in the afternoon. Cantinas in general. Vegetable soup. Tirol. North, south, as long as it’s Tirol. Trains, especially the dining car. The dining car staff, the food that is served there. Ex-girlfriends. Relatives of the ex-girlfriends. Uniforms, no matter what type: fireman, nurse, waiter, military – everything that wears a uniform fills me with trust and admiration. Empty movie theaters. Boots. For women, for men, but preferably for women. Real women wear boots. Horror movies. Preferably those in which people are possessed by demons that must be exorcised. Fashion, the more vulgar, the better. Dressing rooms. Prophesies that predict the end of the world. Walking sticks. Living rooms with birds in a cage. Masseurs. The end of Le Rouge et le Noir by Stendhal. That chopped-off head – wonderful! Role play in all its manifestations. Lego. Landladies who check to see whom you take upstairs. Landladies who make you go grocery shopping for them. Savings accounts with just enough annual interest to pay for a cup of coffee. Relatives you don’t want to see anymore. Olive oil. Letting telephones ring. Having the bed all to yourself. Servants. Our deepest desire can be summed up in a single word: servants. The melancholy certainty that I will one day be reincarnated as a servant girl.*
I don’t like: Possession. Possession is an escape when it doesn’t fit in a travel bag. Writers in restaurants, cafés and hotels. Raisins. Colleagues. I wish there were exceptions, so that I could say: such and such colleague is nice, and so is his wife. But there are none. Friendliness as principle. Nothing is worse than being friendly to people whom you despise inwardly. People who despise nobody. They are often the most despicable. Tourists. Tourism is the symptom of a disease for which I have yet to find a name. The humiliation that stems from the justification: “It is for your own security.” I have nothing against humiliation, but why not just say: “We intend to humiliate you.” The fear of a scandal. The pious believe that life is something other than a scandal. Okay, the life of a canary maybe. Publishers. They live off writers like flies off dung. But I would still rather be the dung than the fly that takes place on it. Romantic sex. Beaches full of half-naked people. Freedom. A despicable invention, since it is obvious that nothing drives people to despair like their freedom. Social commitments. Fear for Muslims, the American threat. Fear of danger in general. Santa Claus and all the Christmas carols he sings. The Salvation Army. Foreign aid. Jeeps. Wasps. Everybody who has more hair than I. Or more talent. Luckily there aren’t many and I have never personally met them.*
(In 2002 it became clear that the mysterious Viennese writer Marek van der Jagt, who made his debut with the novel The Story of My Baldness, was in fact a heteronym of Arnon Grunberg.)
I wound her hair into curls. Whenever I’m nervous I curl things. She told me to be careful because having your hair curled can hurt. Later I kissed her little breasts, exactly the way I had seen it done on TV and in the movies. I kept Tender Is the Night in mind the whole time and that worked very well.We said things to each other that must be at least ten thousand years old but that I was sure we had invented ourselves, the first and only people ever to say them. She said, “You can keep your underpants on if you like. It can be done with underpants on too.”
I said that in that case both of us would have to keep our underpants on. After a while she asked if it had hurt, but of course it hadn’t. I looked at the hairs in her armpits, which were so short I couldn’t curl them.*
When all I had on was a pair of underpants and a sweater, I said: 'I'm the tutor, I don't know if this is such a good idea. We should think of Max. And your husband.'
'All I've thought about in the last couple of years is Max,' she said, 'only Max, I can't take it anymore,' and peeled off my underpants like a poacher skinning a rabbit. She said nothing about my body. She only looked at my crotch and sighed.Pleasure came to me in the form of Mrs. Blumenthal, who I was to call Trude. Pleasure smelled of wet clothes and maybe a little of mothballs too. But I'd be lying if I said that I was deaf and blind to that pleasure, even though I'd imagined that it would smell different, even though the decor was not all it could have been. No, I had no choice but to fall to my knees and humbly accept the pittance life had in store for me.Max's mother's sex tasted like pear licqueur.**
'Of course, sexuality crops up in all of my books, but it is also part of human nature and it reappears in different manifestations each time. But this is not something that can be traced back to my own life. What goes on in matters of the heart, and not just between men and women, is mostly problematic.'***
‘Sex is like a meal that went wrong but that you eat anyway.’****
* Blue Mondays (1994) ** The Story of My Baldness (2000) *** Buchkultur, Thomas Hierl, Aug./Sept. 2005 **** Das Magazin, Anuschka Roshani, 2-28-2004
I was very bad in socialising with other people. I hated making phone calls. That's why I wrote letters to everybody I had to phone, or I thought I had to phone. My letters became longer and longer. I never thought about myself as a writer. Once I thought of myself as an actor, and that was painful enough. One day a Dutch publisher asked me to write the stories down I had just told him. That's how Blue Mondays started.*
* The List, 11-21-1997
Major Robert sniffs. 'Do you smell that?' he asks. 'The wind has shifted. That’s the ‘shit pit’.'
The shit pit is a pond where the camp's sewage runs to be purified. The story goes that one of the Rumanian soldiers once swam through the shit pit for two hundred dollars.'Time to eat,' Major Robert says, rubbing his hands in anticipation. He takes another look at the workers. 'A primitive people, but lovely, the Afghanis,' he says. 'And everything is tomorrow. Tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow. When it comes right down to it, though, they get the work done.'
There are a number of mess halls, but only the British soldiers have a dining hall to themselves. The food in all of them is catered by KBR, a subsidiary of the Halliburton concern. KBR also sees to the sanitary facilities.
Whenever you enter the mess tent, after the ritual washing of hands - which feels to me like something from the Old Testament as well - you have to sign in. A military identification code is required.
'What should I write down?' I ask concernedly.'Anything you feel like,' Major Robert says. 'I always write down the number of days I have left to go in this place.'*
A group of old men is staying at our hotel. They've come here to go cycling. Early in the morning they come to breakfast in their outfits. Their cycling suits are tight. You can see everything.
One of the cyclists stops me out on the street.As chamberboy, your work never ends.'You're the kid who does breakfasts, right?'
'That's right,' I say.
'I've got something I need to talk to you about,' the bicyclist says.
'And that is?'
'There's not enough cottage cheese at breakfast.' He squeezes my shoulder amiably. 'We bike forty kilometers a day, we need lots of cottage cheese.' I promise to make sure there's more cottage cheese. Perfection is my aim.**
* Among Soldiers (Summer 2006) ** Clean Sheets (Summer 2007)
Zelig (Woody Allen, 1983)Betty Blue (Jean-Jacques Beineix, 1986)Once Upon a Time in America (Sergio Leone, 1984)Le mari de la coiffeusse (Patrice Leconte, 1990)Scarface (Brian De Palma, 1983)Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola, 1979)Heat (Michael Mann, 1995)The Dancer Upstairs (John Malkovich, 2002)Lolita (Adrian Lyne, 1997)Closer (Mike Nichols, 2004). *
I, too, had adopted the idea that I wanted to make movies. To be more precise: I wanted to make a movie about a shampoo salesman who is taking a nap on a bench in Coney Island. When he wakes up he discovers that he's missing his left shoe. He needs to go to a meeting with his boss, but he'd rather die than walk into that meeting with only one shoe.**
* 'Yasha', VPRO Gids, 04-23-2005 ** Amuse-Bouche, 'Left Shoe' (2001), Arnon Grunberg's Left Shoe (short movie, 1995)
I wake up between 8am and 8.30am, even when I go to bed at 7am. Then I go to a coffee shop nearby. I order an espresso and an O.J. After that I go home and write till noon or 1pm. Then I go out for lunch. I spend a lot of time in restaurants. Three times I fell in love with a waitress, and one time with the daughter of the owner of the restaurant.*
Here he is (in New York) sitting at the computer in his kitchen for a few hours every day, always with the same song playing in the background for weeks on end, it may be something by Mozart or Madonna’s ‘La Isla Bonita’ – the main thing is that it has to be an endless loop, so that the brain can start to think in a rhythm.**
Listen to an interview with Arnon on German radio about working while listening to music
* The List, 11-21-1997 ** Das Magazin, Anuschka Roshani, 2-28-2004
‘Josef, I said, ‘this is Robert. I’m at St Ambroeus’. I need you.’
He started laughing. Capano’s laugh was catching.‘I’m at St Ambroeus’. With a woman. I need a stretch limousine to take us to Atlantic City.’
‘Again?’ he said.*
* Phantom Pain (2000)
In my kitchen. Every morning. When I travel I write in hotel rooms.*
* Contentville, 04-24-2001
A Polish writer named Marek Hłasko, J.M. Coetzee, Isaak Babel, Turgenjev, J.D. Salinger, Heine, Flaubert, Gogol, Karel van het Reve, Astrid Lindgren, Frans Kellendonk, Dostoevsky, Albert Camus, Cervantes and everything I read and hated.*
One of the most successful heroes in the history of literature is named Karlsson on the Roof. He can easily compete with the great names - which you may fill in yourself - and many a hero dwindles away when compared with Karlsson.**
* The List, 11-21-1997 ** The Comfort of Slapstick (1998)
After I had received my first-quarter revenues statement, I called the publishing house.‘What is this?’ I said. ‘Forty-six copies sold and four hundred and twenty-seven copies returned? What’s this supposed to mean?’
‘Well, we’ve reached a certain saturation point,’ my editor said. Officially his name is Frederik van der Kamp, but I’m supposed to call him Fred.‘Saturation?’ I shouted. ‘Who’s saturated? You think I’m saturated with a hundred and thirty-seven guilders and fifty-four cents? Have you ever heard of anyone who could live on a hundred and thirty-seven guilders and fifty-four cents a quarter?’
My editor admitted that he had never heard of anyone who could do that. ‘But you have other sources of income, don’t you? What about your lovely wife.I shut him up quick. I don’t like other men talking about my lovely wife.‘So publish a paperback edition of my first novel,’ I said.‘We’ve already done that.’
‘Well, then make it a luxury edition.’
‘We’ve already done that, too.’
‘So make a movie out of it,’ I shouted into the phone.‘That’s been done, too,’ my editor whispered.‘Well, think of something!’ I shrieked. ‘Make it a children’s book or a comic book, or have you already done that too? Or, better yet, have it printed on curtains. Then people won’t have to take the book to bed with them, they can read the curtains. When they’ve finished one book, they can hang new curtains. This is a million-dollar idea. Believe me, the future of the literary book lies in drapery.’ Then I hung up and paced the room for a couple of hours.*
I’d taken part in conferences about literature; once I’d even delivered a short speech about taboos in literature. The delegates, writers all, had reacted to my story with mild assent. After I was done, a Slovenian had shouted: ‘Exactly, let’s forget about taboos, literature isn’t a nursery school!’ I couldn’t remember his name, so I looked up his picture in the programme booklet. He looked completely different in real life. According to the programme, he lived in a remote castle and had won a prize for a book of poetry about horses. The book, unfortunately, was available only in Slovenian. But the Slovenian had a stencilled English translation, which he handed out to anyone who showed even the slightest interest.I was interested. Stencilled literature has always enjoyed my interest and warm support.*
* Phantom Pain (2000)
1994: Rabobank Lente Prize for Literature - 'Tina'
1994: Anton Wachter Prize - Blue Mondays
1996: Golden Dog Ear - Blue Mondays
1998: Charlotte Köhler Stipendium - The Comfort of Slapstick
2000: Anton Wachter Prize - The Story of My Baldness (Marek van der Jagt)
2000: AKO Literature Prize - Phantom Pain
2002: NRW Literature Prize - complete oeuvre
2002: Golden Owl - In Praise of Mankind
2002: Aspekte Prize - The Story of My Baldness
2004: AKO Literature Prize - The Asylum Seeker
2004: Ferdinand Bordewijk Prize - The Asylum Seeker
2007: Golden Owl - Tirza
2007: Libris Prize - Tirza
2009: Constantijn Huygens Prize - complete oeuvre
2010: Prix Littéraire des Jeunes Européens, 'coup de cœur' - Tirza
2010: Frans Kellendonk Prize - complete oeuvre
2011: KANTL Prize - Tirza
2013: Cutting Edge Award - The Man Without Illness
2017: Gouden Ganzenveer - complete oeuvre
2022: P.C. Hooft Prize, Dutch literary lifetime achievement award - complete oeuvre
2022: Johannes Vermeer Prize - complete oeuvre
We were pleased to hear personally from young Dutch novelist Arnon Grunberg this week after he was charged with arrogance for not accepting the prestigious AKO literature prize in person. 'I'm not running for president,' Grunberg said in an e-mail exchange from New York. 'If people think I am arrogant, that is fine with me. They should not judge my arrogance, or the colour of my shoes. Just my work, that is all I ask for.' However, Grunberg must be hoping critics continue to like the colour of his shoes. Grunberg said he needed the 100,000 AKO prize money to help pay his credit card bill.*
* Het Financieele Dagblad, 11-04-2000
"And yes - here the author is again ironic and unpredictable. The irony and the sense of absurdity are among his most powerful tools. "Kultura.bg about Blue Mondays
"Unraveling with humor and poignancy until the end."Publishers Weekly about Tirza
"It sours, like real literature."The Village Voice about Phantom Pain
"The novel is beautifully written, with some its scenes so delicately and gorgeously rendered, in Sam Garrett’s translation, that you forget for a moment what they’re about. This is the kind of book that reminds you to keep feeling. "The Seattle Times about The Jewish Messiah
"The deafening erotic cruelty that arises from these pages is reminiscent of Theorem by Pasolini."Le Monde about Tooth and Nail