The Discovery of Heaven Read-a-Long: Week 1

I’m joining in Iris on Books’ read-a-long of The Discovery of Heaven by Harry Mulish (1992), a book by a Dutch writer. I’m Dutch myself (as Iris is) and so it’s great fun to do a read-a-long of a countryman’s big tome. Big it is, over 900 pages.

For this week, we read the first part, which is The Beginning of the Beginning.

I was wondering what I had let myself in for when I started with the prologue. It’s some entities in heaven discussing how they managed to get Ada Brons and Max Delius together. They (the entities) first got their grandparents together and worked it from there.

Well, what am I to think? Is this going to be some metaphysical or theological discussion? But no, when the actual story about Ada and Max finally started, it was good.


Max Delius is a scientist, an astronomer and one middle of the night he gives Onno Quist a lift. They have never met before but they “click” and are instant friends. Max is a very organised person, as can be seen from his house, while Onno is very unruly. Onno is  an expert in one particular dead language, although he speaks a multitude of live languages too.

Max’ parents are dead: his father revealed the location of Max’ Jewish mother in the second world war, and she and her family were taken to a concentration camp were they were killed. Later, Max’ father was executed for this.

Max meets Ada, a cellist in a duo, and they have a relationship for a while. But Ada breaks it up when Max is more interested in his friendship with Onno than with her. Not much later, she becomes Onno’s girlfriend.

Max is meanwhile gone to the Eastern Block to find out more about his family’s history. He comes back rather depressed with how little he finds. This is taking place in the 1960s, and when Ada and her duo partner Bruno are asked to perform in Cuba, Max and Onno are keen to join in. They manage to get visa also and the three of them travel to Cuba.

Somehow, through a (deliberate?) misunderstanding, Max and Onno are seen as the Dutch delegation for a communist convention. They go to some meetings in which the top of world’s communism is present. Ada meanwhile is at a different convention, about arts and culture.

The last day they decide to go to the beach, except Onno, who secretly picks up a woman whom he sleeps with. At the beach, Max and Ada also get together.


Not much to say really, the story is quite straigth forward. At least, in my eyes.

Of course, Max and Onno could be seen as a kind of brothers, opposites in some respects (e.g., tidiness) and similar in others (choice of girlfriend). Ada doesn’t seem to make much of a distinction between them. They are both fine as boyfriends, as far as she’s concerned.

I myself also found it hard to keep Max and Onno apart, they were too similar for me.

The writing I find easy and pleasant. The story reminds me a little of W. F. Hermans’ De tranen der acacia’s (The Tears of the Acacias) which also has two male protagonists with loose morals. Hermans’ book is more pessimistic, Mulish book has a more uplifting tone.

I enjoyed reading this and look forward to the next instalment.

Read also Iris’ post about this first part – she’s is a lot more critical than me! Here.

What do you think of the first part?

About Leeswammes
I'm owner and editor at In my free time, I read and review books on my two blogs, Leeswammes' Blog and De Boekblogger.

10 Responses to The Discovery of Heaven Read-a-Long: Week 1

  1. Rikki says:

    From reading your summary I find the story not straightforward at all, :). There seems to be a constant switch in partners and I found the timeline slightly confusing, but mayeb this will be different when I am reading myself. Sounds interesting, though.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Rikki, there isn’t too much of a switch in partners: the two friends both have the same girlfriend (nut not at the same time). Ok, well, she does sleep with boyfriend-1 although she’s now with boyfirend-2, that’s true. I think she doesn’t mind much who is “hers”.

  2. Els says:

    Great idea to blog about your reading experience of The Discovery of Heaven. I have read the book twice and will read it again some time; it’s great! Have fun reading and discussing it.

  3. Iris says:

    Very different perspective 🙂 I am glad you are enjoying it so far.

    • Leeswammes says:

      You’re digging deeper than me, Iris. But that’s our personal ways of reading books I think. I read books quite literally, although I do sometimes notice deeper meanings, etc. You’re much better than me at that. Plus I’m not very critical, I accept what I’m getting from the writer.

      Will comment on your post later.

  4. I have never heard of this book, but it sounds very interesting — and very weighty too, at 900 pages. Looking forward to your further thoughts!

  5. Suzanne says:

    I’m only about 40 pages in and the introduction really scared me but once I got past that the story so far makes more sense.

    • Leeswammes says:

      That’s what I found too, Suzanne. The main story is just fine really, but the introduction was rather strange. Nice that you started too!

  6. sibylreads says:

    I loved The Discovery of Heaven as a teenager. Maybe I should read it again, but I might be more sensitive to Mulisch’s giant ego now. I don’t want to ruin the memory.

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