Available in English for the first time since its 2006 release, Arnon Grunberg’s Tirza is the story of an obsessed patriarch in free fall. When protagonist Jörgen Hofmeester’s estranged wife returns home after three and a half years—having left him and their two daughters for an old flame and a houseboat—his nondescript bourgeois existence is threatened with total upheaval. First, he is laid off suddenly from his job at a publishing house. But most disturbing for Hofmeester is the news that his beloved youngest daughter, Tirza, is departing for a yearlong trip to Africa with new boyfriend Choukri, a man whom Hofmeester obsessively insists resembles 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta. Told in two parts, Tirza traces Hofmeester’s unraveling—his descent into unreliability and perhaps madness.
Grunberg’s work has drawn comparisons with Dostoyevsky in the past, and Tirza, with its almost claustrophobic focus on Hofmeester’s psyche, will doubtless be no exception. But despite its intense (and intensely interior) content, Grunberg’s prose throughout the novel is remarkably restrained. Though there are a few silted and awkward sentences — likely a result of its translation — the language on the whole is elegant and often quietly devastating: “Hofmeester was a man who had spent a lifetime in search of the right demeanor and who, now that that life was almost over, still hadn’t found it.” Psychologically thrilling, narratively compelling and ultimately disturbing, Tirza explores the incomprehensible violence that families inflict upon themselves and each other.