Paul Krüzen has been forgotten. Abandoned by his own mother, left behind by a world that’s moving too fast for him. All that keeps him company are tired memories, worn-thin acquaintances, and his own Saint Rita, Paul’s favourite prostitute-cum-therapist from Quezon. But even this ramshackle scaffolding, holding Paul above the tides of despair, is beginning to crumble.

The ideas in The Blessed Rita are on the verge of breakthrough. The motifs are so relevant, so contemporary that they’re not quite defined in our societal vocabulary. Yet, Tommy Wieringa’s exploration of them is in no way half-baked. Wieringa captures with sympathy and an honest authenticity a transitionary period in the life of Paul Krüzen, extracting emotion, fleeting xenophobia, baseless racism with the care of an archaeologist digging up an ancient Roman urn.

Paul is clinging to a past that hurt him. Any jagged piece of the future catches on his bruises and blinds him with pain. He’s sad, frustrated, forgotten. He isn’t a likeable character. At times Wieringa twists his plight into disbelieving hilarity. Nonetheless, he is someone you will feel for, pity, and even relate to in various odd ways that you won’t want to admit. Paul is entirely lifelike, as is Mariënveen, his prison of a home which Wieringa brings to life with the bored indifference of someone who lives in the forgotten town.

Though the translation is stiff at first, once limbered up The Blessed Rita is a commendable book worth anyone’s time. Its ideas, you can’t help but think, will only become more relevant, more defined, and more urgent as we realise that people like Paul cannot be forgotten or ignored.

It’s a book to take with you as a guide into the future, or one to read as you look back on the past through a melancholic, though cathartic and forgiving lens. The book’s main strength (not at all its only one) is Wieringa’s fluency in an unspoken language. He translates for us those who cannot speak for themselves or who cannot be heard. He can talk to and for anyone, it seems, even those who may not seem worth it.

Remy Greasley 3* personal read

The Blessed Rita by Tommy Wieringa
978-1-911344-90-2 Scribe Publications Hardcover March 2020