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The Cocaine Salesman


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About the Author

Conny Braam helped set up and led the Dutch Anti-Apartheid Movement for many years. Her books include Operatie Vula, De Bokkeslachter and Zwavel, a trilogy of novels about the Abraham Abraham.


It is a good tale with several interwoven narratives that are very credible. Lucien seems to be too clever by half, and his comeuppance, presumably to return to a life of dissolution (money allowing) is a sorry end. One can almost see the blackmail coming. The detail of the cravings of Pola is graphic and realistic. Robin Ryder is a credible character, although there were few who were as angry as he, perhaps because the surgeons provided more support than the story suggests (having said that he did abscond in his furious state so would not have benefited; this also explains why he continued to wear a mask, which by the later stages of war was something rarely made). His dependence is also well-crafted and the self-destruction has echoes in latter-day celebrities (Amy Winehouse springs to mind). -- Dr Andrew Bamji The story follows the paths of two men, one Dutch and one English, during and after the first World War as their lives are affected by cocaine. The author has researched the supply of the drug and the Consequences of its use so well that it is often easy to forget that this is a novel. The Dutchman is employed to sell cocaine legitimately for medical use to both the English and German armies. The tragedy of this obscure aspect of the first World War becomes clear as the stories unfold. The English soldier suffers severe facial injuries and is transferred from the trenches to England for treatment. There is a fascinating account of the pioneering reconstructive surgical techniques of Harrold Gillies (later Sir Harold in recognition of his work) and early attempts at maxillofacial prosthetic appliances. The limitations of these early procedures are vividly described through the hopes and disappointments of the patient. Eventually the paths of the two men collide as they live with deception because of their involvement with cocaine.There follows an insightful account of how family,friends and colleagues cope with the two principal characters during the chaotic post-war period and a painfully realistic interpretation of the affects of addiction on emotional relationships and an unfolding love story. This is a captivating easy read which maintains a sense of urgency throughout as the reader is drawn deeper into increasingly complex interactions between everyone affected by the two men at the heart of the narrative.When the men part at the end of the story an intriguing question remains - will the next phase of their lives allow them freedom from cocaine? -- Dr Phil Rood Picture a world of hellish exclusion, nightmarish noise and images, and horrid violence. Picture one person trying to live through the sleepless nights, the isolation among his peers, the permanent sense of dreadful threat. Picture him needing drugs. His best friend might even be called Charlie. But don't picture an inner city slum, 2012, but a man on the front in World War One. Robin Ryder is that person, about to enter his first real action since leaving his teaching job and fiancee behind in Great Yarmouth. Afterwards he will be so physically and mentally scarred he will be one of many hundreds of thousands given cocaine by his doctors. And where do they get that from? From a legal, virtual monopoly controlled from Holland. Hence the main character in this historical-book-you-wouldn't-suspect-from-the-title, Lucien Hirschland, who is a travelling salesman for one Dutch factory, whose bosses are providing both sides in the great war through Dutch neutrality. It's a relief that Conny Braam has uncovered this ... She succeeds in not just opening our eyes to an unexpected part of that war's history, and hence our medicinal heritage, but in providing literature with one of a select band, that of sympathetic drug dealers. Used to huge, sweeping deals that earn him a brand new Harley Davidson with little investment, his hubris is evident, but only one side of his well-formed character. And the book is certainly not just his story, as Ryder is similarly very strongly written. ... I think the most surprising thing about this book is that it was written by a female. This Conny is a Dutch Lady of Letters, and clearly shows more of her work could be brought to the English language market. In this translation at least it seems a particularly masculine novel, in style, content and detail. Yet it also allows a very general interest, in the way of historical sagas. ...the novelty of this circumstance, the characters and the strong form of the author make this a book to definitely consider. I wish it a large audience. -- The Bookbag

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