“Heather Neff’s voice is blessed with a sustained and beautiful triumph of truth that cries out with anguish, anger, and love for a people and a place. Haarlem sings so saintly that somewhere James Baldwin is smiling.”
—Ernesto Quinonez, author of Bodega Dreams and Chango’s Fire
In HAARLEM, acclaimed novelist Heather Neff turns her formidable talent to a gritty and allegorical tale where urban fiction goes international to create a textured, thriller-like novel illustrating one man’s struggle against his own inner demons.
"The only thing that will last forever is my Thirst..."
So says Abel Crofton as he explores the narrow streets beside the silent canals of the historic, deeply elusive city of Amsterdam. A New York tunnel worker who's struggling to stay sober after years of alcoholism, Abel has arrived in the Netherlands in search of the mother he's never known.
Experiencing life for the first time from outside the United States, Abel feels both completely lost and highly visible in the labyrinth of cobblestone alleys, smoky cafes, and grey winter days of Amsterdam. He clings to his love of jazz as a spiritual guide in this world-within-a-world, hoping that somehow the music will guide him to the woman whose name he doesn't even know...
Plagued by loneliness and his desperate Thirst, Abel encounters Sophie, a waitress in a café near his hotel in Haarlem. Of Dutch-Caribbean descent, Sophie and her sister, Saskia, face burdens of their own, but Sophie agrees to help Abel find his mother. Despite having few clues as to her whereabouts, he soon stumbles on a document trail that takes him to Haarlem, the ancient Dutch town from which the famed Black American neighborhood takes its name.
Haarlem is both a place of promise and a site of keen frustration for Abel as he ventures deeper into unknown territory. With Sophie by his side, Abel enters a dangerous underworld where he discovers startling secrets about his family and his father’s past that threaten to destroy whatever hope he has left. Abel is soon forced to confront his identity as a Black man, as the survivor of a brutal impoverished childhood, and the results of his relationship with his bitter, abusive father. Above all, Abel struggles every moment with his ever-present "Thirst," which waits in the shadows to destroy him.
A tightly paced page-turner filled with searing language and archetypal biblical reflections, Heather Neff’s HAARLEM is blazing leap forward from a “writer with depth, a sense of place, and a profound understanding of the human mind.”
—Black Issues Book Review
Praise for Haarlem
"With Haarlem, Heather Neff takes on a male voice and gives us a riveting look into the mind of a character who convincingly comes to grips with his fractured life. This is a book you won't put down easily."
—Ian Smith, The Blackbird Papers
"Heather Neff has the ability not only to jump into the skin of her characters but to open their pores, presenting the beauty and the ugly side by side."
—Brian Keith Jackson, The Queen of Harlem
"A writer with depth, a sense of place, and a profound understanding of the human mind."
—Black Issues Book Review
No Longer Lost or Alone
"I LOVED Haarlem...poignant, riveting and emotionally rich. It is about a middle aged man who is a recovering alcoholic (12 years sober) who travels to Europe (Haarlem, Netherlands) to find the mother who abandoned him as a child. Not only does he discover his mother...and a few other family members but the journey also allows him time to find himself. Haarlem is a literary read with crisp/descriptive prose. I was pleasantly surprised that I enjoyed this book as much as I did. I read Neff's first book and did not care for it very much because it was too narrative driven...this time she had the right balance and pacing. I enjoyed this book thoroughly and definitely recommend it to those who want a break from contemporary fiction reads as well as tho' who enjoy reading books by James Baldwin. As Haarlem sort of reminded me of a couple of Baldwin's books."
"I'm an addict and I have abandonment issues as this book by Heather Neff brought this up inside of me and I thank her for writing this book that spoke to me. Abel Paulus Crofton is a native Harlem, New York resident. He lives and breathes Harlem from childhood to adulthood.
We follow his turbulent childhood at the hands of a father who was a drunk, an abuser, and a musician. We follow Abel as he grows into being a man at least physically but with no role model he falters but for him more than makes up for it in ways that speak to him as a young man finding his own.
Along his journey he finds love in one person and that is his grandmother but when she dies he is left alone and that adds to his spiral down. Coupled with an alcoholic father who was also abusive Abel is without a mother. His father chooses not to share anything about Abel's mother to him so he is left growing up without knowing a mother's love and which possibly adds to his spiral down.
Abel seeing that school is not his thing, drops out, and starts drinking which he does for a number of years. Eventually he hits his rock bottom and he starts on the road to recovery.
Haarlem weaves back and forth in time as in the present Abel decides to do the un-thinkable, find his mother. This search for his mother leads him to Amsterdam and along the way he finds Haarlem, which is far different than his Harlem but where he finds a place that offers him solace. In his search for his mother he comes to find other surprises namely being he finds himself.
I applaud Ms. Neff on writing this book as she has put into words my thoughts and feelings when it comes to being an addict and one who also has abandonment issues and has opened up doors inside of me that I thought were long abandoned.
I have a long road ahead of me but just as Abel overcame, so shall I."
Lost and Found
"Haarlem by Heather Neff is a book I immediately fell in love with, as I have an affinity for deeply flawed characters. Abel Crofton fit the bill perfectly and from the moment he began his journey, I felt his pain and his discovery, the temptation and the hold of his Thirst over him as he struggled to make sense of his existence. Haarlem shows the beauty and power in facing your past before one can ever really find their way in the future and though I know it probably wouldn't happen, I'd love to hear from Abel again. Great novel Heather :)"
"Neff brings some wonderful stories. The novels always touch the heart and leave so much to discuss. You want to talk about her books. I enjoyed this book just as much as her last book. Both were given awards."
—Mahogany Book Club
ALSO AVAILABLE ON KINDLE!!
Cover design by Rex Bonomelli