Welcome to my third SFATW post! For those of you who are unaware of what this means, here’s a quick recap:
Souvenirs From Across The World (SFATW) is a feature created by Marie@Drizzle & Hurricane Books to get to know each other a little better, focussing especially on where we are all from, and share a bit from our countries, cities, cultures, traditions, writers, and authors while we’re at it.The main goal of Souvenirs From Across The World is to create a link between all bloggers, from everywhere, and to share a bit of the diversity that makes everyone unique on the blogosphere.
This month (November 6th – December 4th)’s theme is:
In this post, I will give you a fairly quick tour through the world of Dutch literature. I’m definitely not claiming I’m covering all the important works because…ain’t nobody got time for that! Maybe there will be one or two books in here that seem interesting to you. I tried going for those books which have an English translation available.
As I’ve sort of said up here, I’m not going to go in-depth here because I want to keep this post readable. I’m merely picking out some highlights in a more or less chronological order. Starting with the first book:
The History of Miss Sara Burgerhart was published in 1782 by a writer’s duo of two women: Betje Wolff and Aagje Deken. I believe this is one of the earliest Dutch works promoting female emancipation. It’s also the first Dutch modern novel in history! I can’t find any trace of an English translation here, sadly. You’ll just have to believe me when I say this is an important book in Dutch history.
Max Havelaar – a Dutch civil servant in Java – burns with an insatiable desire to end the ill treatment and oppression inflicted on the native peoples by the colonial administration. Max is an inspirational figure, but he is also a flawed idealist whose vow to protect the Javanese from cruelty ends in his own downfall. In Max Havelaar, Multatuli (the pseudonym for Eduard Douwes Dekker) vividly recreated his own experiences in Java and tellingly depicts the hypocrisy of those who gained from the corrupt coffee trade. Sending shockwaves through the Dutch nation when it was published in 1860, this damning exposé of the terrible conditions in the colonies led to welfare reforms in Java and continues to inspire the fairtrade movement today.
I don’t know how familiar you guys are with Dutch history, but being of the seafaring folk, we owned quite a few colonies back in the day.With Indonesia being a very important colony and lots of Dutch people having grown up there, it’s not surprising that there’s a lot of literature set in Indonesia. Max Havelaar is one of them.
Maybe you’ve heard of the Max Havelaar Fair Trade brand? They sell a lot of coffee, for one.
Eline Vere is a young heiress: dreamy, impulsive, and subject to bleak moods. Though beloved among her large coterie of friends and relations, there are whispers that she is an eccentric: she has been known to wander alone in the park as well indulge in long, lazy philosophical conversations with her vagabond cousin. When she accepts the marriage proposal of a family friend, she is thrust into a life that looks beyond the confines of The Hague, and her overpowering, ever-fluctuating desires grow increasingly blurred and desperate.
First published in 1889, Eline Vere by Louis Couperus was considered a masterpiece, and still is to this day (obviously). It’s actually considered to be the Dutch version of Madame Bovary. I haven’t read either of these two books yet (yes, shame on me), so I can’t say anything about the comparison. The reason why I haven’t read Eline Vere yet is because it deals with insomnia and depression in a very realistic way. Being a bit too familiar with both of these topics, I just can’t put myself to reading it because I know it’s bound to upset me. It’s the same reason I’m not going to read The Bell Jar anytime soon.
After World War II, Dutch literature reached a peak, resulting in the naming of The Big Three: the authors Willem Frederik Hermans, Harry Mulish, and Gerard Reve.
The most impressive book I’ve read of Willem Frederik Hermans has got to be Nooit Meer Slapen (literally translated to To Never Sleep Again).
A young Dutch geologist Alfred Issendorf is determined to win fame for making a great discovery. To this end he joins a small geological expedition to the far north of Norway where he hopes to be the first to identify craters made by meteorites in the landscape. It is a harsh and deserted environment which brings out all the faultlines amongst the group of young men and in Alfred’s character. The tribulations increase: Alfred is unable to procure crucial aerial photographs, he falls on rocks, is soaked in a river, and is beset by mosquitoes and insomnia; the tent leaks appallingly. He is not a natural athlete, feels incapable, and knows he is superfluous to the group’s needs. Alfred becomes desperate and paranoid, suspecting the others are leagued in conspiracy against him and is before long approaching the limits of physical and mental endurance.
Haunted by the ghost of his scientist father, unable to escape the looming influence of his mother, and anxious to complete the thesis that will make his name, Alfred’s preoccupations multiply in this wilderness. As, piece by piece, his equipment is lost or ruined and his thinking becomes ever more disjointed, he moves towards the final act of vanity which will trigger a catastrophe.
If you like to read about terrifying nature and psychological and physical discomfort: this is the book for you. It will leave you hanging with an emotional hangover the size of someone’s penis.
A novel that probes moral devastation following a Nazi retaliation in a Dutch town. The Assault has been translated and published to great critical acclaim throughout Europe and in the United States.
It is the winter of 1945, the last dark days of the ware in occupied Holland. A Nazi collaborator, infamous for his cruelty, is assassinated as he rides on his bicycle. The Germans retaliate by slaughtering an innocent family: only the youngest son, twelve-year-old Anton, survives.
The Assault traces the complex repercussions of this nightmarish event on Anton’s life. Determined not to forget, he opts for a carefully normal existence—a prudent marriage, a successful career, and colorless passivity. But the past keeps breaking through, in relentless memories and in chance encounters with the other actors in the drama, until Anton finally learns what really happened that night in 1945, and why.
This was my first encounter with Dutch literature when I was fourteen or so. I was very impressed at the time. If you want to read about the Nazi occupation of Holland, this is a good book for it.
Another novel by Harry Mulish, The Discovery of Heaven, has been turned into a British movie with Stephen Fry playing one of the main characters.
’I work in an office. I take cards out of a file. Once I have taken them out, I put them back in again. That is it.’
Twenty-three-year-old Frits – office worker, daydreamer, teller of inappropriate jokes – finds life absurd and inexplicable. He lives with his parents, who drive him mad. He has terrible, disturbing dreams of death and destruction. Sometimes he talks to a toy rabbit.
This is the story of ten evenings in Frits’s life at the end of December, as he drinks, smokes, sees friends, aimlessly wanders the gloomy city street and tries to make sense of the minutes, hours and days that stretch before him.
Darkly funny and mesmerising, The Evenings takes the tiny, quotidian triumphs and heartbreaks of our everyday lives and turns them into a work of brilliant wit and profound beauty.
One of the most depressing books I’ve ever read in my life. I think I was around 16 when I read it for school, and while I already thought it was kind of a downer, mood-wise, when my best friend told me this story reminded her of my life at my parents, I was horrified!
If you want to find out how life for the average Dutch person was before the internet, the book has just been translated into English, published by Pushkin Press, and up for grabs at Edelweiss’s download section HERE.
I recently re-read and reviewed one of my favourite Dutch Children’s Books: Pluk van de Petteflet by Annie M.G. Schmidt, translated into Tow-Truck Pluck. You can read my review of the book HERE. I was delighted to see Jasmine@How Useful It Is reviewing it as well the other day. Clicking on the last link will take you to her review!
De Kleine Kapitein (The Little Captain) by Paul Biegel is a lovely book about a child captain sailing around the world, having the most amazing adventures out there while baking pancakes on the deck. Much love! Apparently, there’s a translation in English, but lord knows where to find it.
During the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, a young Dutch boy’s German shepherd proves himself invaluable when his tracking ability saves his young owner’s life.
Even though the Snuf de Hond/Scout the Dog series is considered to be for young boys, I ate this shit up. A dog! In WWII! The perfect bookish companion for pretty much any season.
For those of you who haven’t read my first SFATW post, it was all about the Efteling, an awesome fairy tale theme park over here. The books in the Pinkeltje series are probably my all-time favourite children’s books. And obviously, I just had to include the cover of the book in which Pinkeltje goes to the Efteling!
I’d love to show you a picture of my entire yellow Pinkeltje book collection, but sadly, they’re all spread out in boxes over two attics. I’m working hard on my attic to get my bookcases up and be able to unbox my old books!
Here are a few books (that have been published within the past twenty years), which have been written by a ‘foreign’ author, yet take place in The Netherlands.
Have you read any of these books? I haven’t…
A recent book I have read, however, is The Warlock and the Wolf by Delfy Hall. It’s a YA historical fiction/fantasy novel set in 17th-century The Hague.
I really enjoyed the book and am waiting for Delfy to poop out the sequel!
Here are some honourable mentions if you will, starting with The Diary of Anne Frank.
If you’ve never heard of her before: shame on you! I grew up with Anne being an all-around prominent figure. A symbol for injustice. Every first week of May, we celebrate being liberated from the Nazis, and that’s when Anne comes into play big time. Have any of you visited the Anne Frank house? I’ve been there twice and if you can put aside the whole tourist attraction vibe that’s going on, it’s also something terrifyingly interesting.
If you’ve seen the movie adaptation of The Fault in Our Stars, you’ve seen glimpses of the inside of the house!
Next up is not so much a book, but an author who has earned a place in my literary heart, even though he’s a drunk weirdo waiting to die of liver failure.
Hafid Bouazza was born in Morocco but came to Holland with his family when he was seven years old. We grew up in the same shithole, and I can positively say that we are most likely the only two people from our town who ended up studying Arabic at uni. My Arabic sucks balls currently because I’m never using it anymore, but the information should still be tucked away somewhere inside my brain! I’ve read four books of Hafid and love how he combines the Arabian Nights vibe with Dutch prose.
I have no idea if his novel Paravion has been translated into English, but I was able to find another one of his books, Abdullah’s Feet, over at Amazon.com HERE.
The Vanishing by Tim Crabbé is one of the most fucked up thrillers I’ve read. But maybe that’s because I first read it when I was twelve. Instead of a blurb, I give you a trailer of the movie! That’s right, Het Gouden Ei (The Golden Egg), as the book is originally called, has been turned into a Hollywood movie in 1993.
And something a little more recent…
Whoever is born here, is doomed to stay ’til death. Whoever settles, never leaves.
Welcome to Black Spring, the seemingly picturesque Hudson Valley town haunted by the Black Rock Witch, a 17th century woman whose eyes and mouth are sewn shut. Muzzled, she walks the streets and enters your homes at will. She stands next to your bed for nights on end. Everybody knows that her eyes may never be opened.
The elders of Black Spring have virtually quarantined the town by using high-tech surveillance to prevent their curse from spreading. Frustrated with being kept in lockdown, the town’s teenagers decide to break their strict regulations and go viral with the haunting, but in so doing send the town spiraling into the dark, medieval practices of the past.
Translated from Dutch into English last year, I heard Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt is seriously scary.
Anyone who has read this? I’m pooping my pants just thinking about it…
Which Dutch books seem interesting to you? Have you read any of these? Would you like to?
I’m ending this post with a completely irrelevant video of Michiel Huisman when he was still singing in Fontane, a Dutch boy band. Enjoy!