“ Genre: Fiction / Author: Arnold Jansen op de Haar / Paperback / 210 Pages / Book is published 2010-04-27 by Holland Park Press „
Arnold Jansen op de Haar's "The King of Tuzla" shows signs of great promise but poor editing and a shoddy translation do much to overshadow the Dutchman's debut novel. Fascinated by the events over the last few decades in Yugoslavia, I had expected to be enthralled by this novel; clearly based on the author's own experiences as a United Nations peacekeeper in Bosnia, "The King of Tuzla" is the story of Tijman, an officer who commands respect from his men and makes a success of his mission but, at the same time, struggles to make sense of a growing feeling that this is no longer what he wants to do.
I loved the character of Tijman; hardly a fan of military stories, I found his character surprising and refreshing. As a soldier he is professional, a team leader but a team player too. But Tijman is more than just a soldier; he's an avid reader and an aspiring writer. In reality he is the opposite of his colleagues, yet he is very much one of the boys. It's pretty easy to tell from the way the camaraderie is portrayed that this is a life the author knows well; to those who haven't lived this kind of life, the feeling of fraternity may be hard to really comprehend but the author does a grand job of demonstrating it here.
In the same way he presents a view of the conflict and the way it affected soldiers in a way that only someone with first hand experience could manage. Unfortunately he often assumes a greater knowledge not just of the military but also of the conflict than many readers may have. Some places and events are referred to in the briefest of terms and the reader is expected to get the reference; many of them meant nothing to me and to have looked them up would have interrupted the flow of a narrative already clunky and awkward from a poor translation. There were numerous occasions in which a misplaced word jumped off the page, or a grammatical howler would make me want to throw the book across the room.
It's a shame that the editing seems so slapdash because there are some flashes of brilliance. I loved the portraits of the civilians affected by the war in different ways. These were colourful and compelling vignettes even if they were tantalisingly fleeting; I would have preferred to have followed some of them for longer having quickly become interested in them. When drawing these characters Arnold Jansen op de Haar writes quite beautifully so it's shame to find that the majority of the story is chock full of unexplained names and facts. The best spell of writing comes in a section where Tijman describes his frustrations as the unit comes under heavy attack and, in spite of lacking vital equipment and reinforcements, Tijman and his men successfully take the airfield at Tuzla. This section appears less literary and therefore more immediate, reading more like a memoir in fact.
I think this would appeal more to people with an interest in the military aspect than simply in the conflict in Yugoslavia; ultimately, because of the flaws in setting the scene and fixing the identities of the civilian characters, Tijman could be relating the feelings of a soldier against the backdrop of any modern conflict. I've seen it suggested that "The King of Tuzla" is a 'coming of age' novel; for me that would be one that any reader could relate to - after all growing up is something we all do eventually - but in this instance I found it difficult to identify with any character. I hope for the author's sake he finds an editor to do his talent justice.
"The King of Tuzla" by Arnold Jansen op de Haar
Published by Holland Park Press, April 2010
Thanks to Holland Park Press for providing a free review copy. This is an edited version of my review that first appeared at www.curiousbookfans.co.uk