“The only thing that’ll last forever is my Thirst . . . .”
So says Abel Crofton as he explores the streets and canals of Amsterdam. A New York tunnel worker who’s struggling to stay sober after years of alcoholism, Abel is searching for the mother he’s never known. Despite having few clues as to her whereabouts, he soon finds a bureaucratic trail that takes him to Haarlem, the Dutch town from which the famed African-American neighborhood takes its name.
As Abel ventures into more new territory, he also takes on his identity as a Black man, his rough childhood in Harlem, New York, his relationship to his bitter father, and his battle with addiction. The questions around his life only get more complicated after he meets a coldly direct waitress and a ragged jazz musician, both also bearing major scars from their pasts. The road leads to Haarlem for them as well.
Welcome to Abel’s search for salvation in another tight page turner from Heather Neff.
Abel Paulus Crofton, the biracial son of an abusive, alcoholic saxophonist and a Dutch mother he never knew, confronts his past in a journey from Harlem, N.Y., to the neighborhood's titular Dutch namesake in Neff's compelling fourth novel (after Blackgammon). Like his father, 45-year-old Crofton, a New York City subway tunnel worker, battles what he calls "The Thirst," but has spent 12 years sober with the help of his friend and sponsor, Serge. Crofton's alcoholism is both a symptom of a childhood virtually devoid of love (save the nurturing of his paternal grandmother) and a cause of a reckless, promiscuous adulthood without meaningful human connection. When his father dies at the novel's start, Crofton sets off for the Netherlands in search of his mother armed only with her name, Justina van Gelder, and a desire to make peace with himself. In Amsterdam, he meets Sophie, a strong but tender recovering addict who makes him do the hard work of introspection and accompanies him on his quest for family, including not only his mother but a long-lost brother, too. Neff's gift for snappy dialogue propels this poignant book about hope: for love's redeeming power, the ability to forgive and the gift of second chances.