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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Eros, Thanatos: Amsterdam in Contemporary Anglophone Fiction


This article compares a recent American fiction set in Amsterdam (David Liss’s The Coffee Trader, 2003) with several other Anglophone fictions set in the same city to show how several centuries of literary heterostereotypes of Amsterdam have influenced American ideas on the city in literature. Foreign spaces in fiction almost inevitably draw American projections of the American self that cannot be recognized at home, yet Amsterdam’s particular nexus of projection is perhaps one of the most striking and underexamined, with roots reaching back to the founding mythos of America as Pilgrims’ last stop in Europe and extending to today’s often negative projections of libertinism contrasted with traditional American-style Puritanism. How do the spaces of Amsterdam in a highly detailed work like Liss’s allow a range of issues pertinent to contemporary American society to play themselves out on an “othered” stage? Contemporary questioning of capitalism, sexual and ethical mores, and Americans’ relationship with death are highlighted in this space safely outside the American self, and which thus provides a more comfortable locus for their analysis and narrative development.

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