Visiting Leiden, reading Richard Powers' "The Echo Maker"

Visiting Leiden, reading Richard Powers' "The Echo Maker"


I am on the train, speeding across the damp level ground of Holland, returning south to Paris. The sky is grey, mist hangs on the few open fields that are visible from the train tracks. This part of Europe is densely populated, cities merge one into the other, a continuum of factories and roads and canals and houses.

This morning in my hotel room in Leiden I finished Richard Powers’ latest book, “The Echo Maker”. There was more than one resonance in this; Powers had spent time himself in Holland many years previously and this cold flat part of Northern Europe features in more than one of his books. And the “Echo Maker” situates itself on the plains of Nebraska.


In Paris: Here is the review of Powers’ book I wrote during this trip, the text which follows after those two paragraphs.

My trip to Leiden was otherwise uneventful, just a handful of days at the start of March. Walking from the University to my hotel through unpredictable sudden showers of rain and hail. In the distance rolling raincloud after rolling raincloud coming in from the ocean only a short distance away. Cold, damp air, fields around sodden with water. In the streets and on the buses I found people to be unfailingly friendly and helpful, all of them speaking perfect English. I was confused: this air and weather told me that I must be in some gloomy corner of a certain set of northern Islands. And at mid-day, almost nothing to eat in the University canteen: my years in France and Italy have made me an unhappy traveler at times. In the canteen, I endlessly slid my tray from the beginning to the end of the line in a desperate and fruitless search for sustenance: instead, I found five different kinds of sandwiches, soup, milk. How could one have such a large canteen with no warm food? The question remains unanswered.

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