Arnon Grunberg


"Silent Extras"

(Reviewed by Judi Clark MAR 19, 2001)

"I have contacts," Broccoli said. He said it very seriously, almost too seriously.

Then Elvira said: "I have contacts too," and cracked a pistachio. At first, it seemed like that annoyed Broccoli. But then he looked at me and said: "Do you have contacts too?"

I hesitated. "No, not any more."

"Excellent," Broccoli said, "just leave the contacts to me. My father has boxes of cigars piled in the cellar, and that works wonders when it comes to contacts."

"Are you sure about that?" Elvira asked. Then she took her notepad and wrote down the time and place of our next appointment. It seemed like she was looking forward to it. She said: "I'll bring a box of cigars. I'm crazy about wonders."

Nineteen year old Ewald Krieg and his two friends, Elivra Lopez and Michaël "Broccoli" Eckstein have a keen desire to make it big in the movie business. Ewald has just been rejected by yet another acting school when he meets Broccoli who is in the process of holding a tirade against the same school, for he too has received the boot. Broccoli right off takes command of Ewald and the situation and says "so now we're going to drink fish soup."

Broccoli is the self proclaimed Chairman for the "Association for Geniuses" having been pronounced a wunderkind at the age of six while playing the violin in the family living room. As further proof, he says that at the age of twelve he "was already an accomplished plumber," having to deal with his father's unusually large turds especially whenever company was expected. Although exceedingly creative and of apparent intellect, Broccoli's true genius is in his influence over Ewald and Elvira. He leads his two friends around Amsterdam, sharing his version of what will work to get them worldwide recognition. As Ewald explains, "Back then if people had told me 'He's the son of God,' I would have taken a good look at him and thought: Yeah, now that you mention it."

Broccoli has the run of his parents large home on Bernard Zweerskade, while his seemingly well-to-do parents are off in Switzerland. The family's housekeeper, Mrs. Meerschwam, and family friend, Berk, are the caretakers. Additionally, Broccoli has several charge cards at his disposal which helps out as the Association members meander throughout Amsterdam and beyond.

In return, Ewald and Elvira do Broccoli's bidding on his schemes to make it in the Hollywood Film business. Broccoli is positive that it just takes the right chance exposure, that no matter how insignificant the part, like the role of a "pimply kid" thrown down the stairs by a whore, there's a chance. Before meeting Broccoli, Elvira actually was the lead actress in a movie, albeit it was more out of chance than desire. It was only a partially completed movie since Galani, the Argentine furrier-turned-movie-producer, ran out of interest in the endeavor and funds before its completion. Impressed by this obscure debut, Broccoli declares that Elvira Lopez will be a "femme fatale" like no other and has her rehearse Macbeth so that all the world will see her talent.

Elvira is not as young as Ewald and Broccoli But at 28, she easily seduces all men that come into her company. Elvira is more or less Broccoli's girlfriend; yet Ewald, our narrator, is fascinated with her. When Broccoli is not around, Elvira and Ewald share stories and laughter so hearty it causes him to drool all over her. Elvira is a mystery that Ewald is constantly working on unraveling.

Then one evening Broccoli's credit card is rejected and in due time his parents show up to close the house. It is during one hilarious but heartbreaking drunken dinner scene that Mr. Eckstein tells Broccoli that he's now has to find a place to live.

Silent Extras is a hapless farce about fantasy and failure. Ewald, as narrator, begins this tale with "I am the moneygrubber, dealer in tenements." In other words, this Dutch man tells us he's come to America to become a real estate agent. During my first read, I was put off by this opening line, but finishing the novel and rereading the prologue, I realize that Ewald makes a conscious effort not to mince words about his goals. In fact he's being very careful about all fantasy and daily recites his top three fantasies that must NOT become reality for "As long as you're alive, you have to stay on your toes, because before you know it another fantasy could come true, and that might be the very one that turns fatal." It was only six years earlier that Ewald was caught up in the fantasy world of theater, further enhanced by Broccoli's delusional goals, Elvira's seductive stories and the Ecksteins fraudulent lifestyle.

In the movies, silent extras are those actors that have no speaking role but a play a pivotal part in the movie. An example of a silent extra is the bum in the alley who points which way the assailant ran. The novel Silent Extras is pure genius at pointing us towards the absurdity of ambition. But unlike a movie, these characters are ones that will be remembered for some time to come.

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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)

Writing as Marek van der Jagt*:

*This novel was awarded the Anton Wachteprijs for best first novel until it was discovered that its author was actually Arnon Grunberg, who not had written several novels previously, but had actually won the Anton Wachteprijs for his real debut several years earlier.

 

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About the Author:

Arnon GrunbergArnon Grunberg was born in Amsterdam in 1971 and was kicked out of high school at age seventeen. After failing to get into acting school, Grunberg started his own publishing company at the age of twenty-one. Written on a dare when he was only twenty-two years old, his first novel Blue Mondays became a bestseller in Europe, won the Anton Wachter-prize, and his now in production for a movie and has been translated into eleven languages. His second novel, Silent Extras was recently optioned for a major motions picture by the British production company Geoff Reeve Films, and his third novel Phantom Pain won the AKO Prize, the highest literary honor in the Netherlands.

Writing under the pseudonym of Marek van de Jagt, his novel The Story of My Baldness, also won the Anton Wachter prize for best first novel, but the prize was revoked when it was realized that he had in fact already won the prize.

Grunberg was raised in Amsterdam and currently lives in New York City where he has dabbled in waiting tables and real estate. He writes a weekly column for a Dutch newspaper about life in America, and contributes widely to magazines and newspapers, including The New York Times.

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