Dutch Literature Recommendations

Lost Paradise

A post on Guy’s blog His Futile Preoccupations, followed by a discussion and comments on Dutch literature inspired me to write a post on maybe not sufficiently known Dutch literature. There is maybe also an upcoming European book tour on Bookaroundthecorner’s Blog.

I did learn Dutch because I wanted to read Dutch books in the original language. It’s a funny language and very close to the Swiss German dialects therefore I can’t say it was difficult to learn for me. The structure of the sentences is very English, the words have either German or English origin. However I read most of the books in the German translation which was mostly OK. Despite having read a fair amount of books I still have a big TBR pile of Dutch books.

I tried to find as many English translations as possible but depending on the author the result is somewhat meager.

The list below consists of literary fiction and a few crime writers. The authors that deserve particular attention are Grünberg, Mulisch, de Winter, Palmen, Hermans and Nooteboom.  I have also read the crime writers. Janwillem van de Wetering’s series is very different, very enjoyable. Saskia Noort seemed rather a bit in the vein of Mary Higgins Clark. Maarten t’Hart writes crime and memoirs and is good at both. Mulisch, Nooteboom and van de Wetering should be easy to find. Many of their books have been translated.

Arnon Grünberg: Phantom Pain

Arnon Grunberg’s masterful first novel is a rare feat: a work that manages to be shocking yet not sensationalist, hip but not trendy, ironic but not cynical. Most of all it is highly affecting. Highly recommended.

Leon de Winter: Hoffman’s Hunger

Felix Hoffman’s hunger is both physical and emotional. A Dutch diplomat with a chequered career behind him, he is now Ambassador in Prague in the late 1980s; his final posting. In Kafka’s haunted city, Hoffman desperately feeds his bulimia and spends his insomniac nights studying Spinoza and revisiting the traumas of his past. A child survivor of the Holocaust, Hoffman married and had beloved twin daughters, but a double tragedy has befallen his family; one daughter died as a young girl of leukaemia, the other, who became a heroin addict, has committed suicide.This has wrecked Hoffman’s marriage and his life; he has not had one decent night’s sleep since the death of his daughter over twenty years ago, and his constant physical hunger reflects his emotional hunger for truth and understanding. When Carla, a Czech double agent, gets into Hoffman’s bed, political and emotional mayhem ensues. Hoffman’s past and his present predicament are inextricably bound up with the tormented history of Europe over the fifty years since the Second World War. Like Europe, he is at a crossroads, and the signs point to an uncertain future.

Willem Frederik Hermans: Beyond Sleep

A gripping tale of a man approaching breaking point set beyond the end of the civilised world: a modern classic of European literature.

Margriet de Moor: The Virtuoso

A novel set in 18th-century Naples. For one entire season, Carlotta sits in her candle-lit box, held in the spell of a world in which knowledge, beauty and love collide: music. She has fallen in love with the male soprano, Gasparo.

Cees Nooteboom: Lost Paradise

Nooteboom brings a subtle, playful brilliance to this exceptional story of escape, loss and identity.

Harry Mulisch: The Discovery of Heaven

On a cold night in Holland, Max Delius – a hedonistic, yet brilliant astronomer who loves fast cars, nice clothes and women – picks up Onno Quist, a cerebral chaotic philologist who cannot bear the banalities of everyday life. They are like fire and water. But when they learn they were conceived on the same day, it is clear that something extraordinary is about to happen. Their worlds become inextricably intertwined, as they embark on a life’s journey destined to change the course of human history. A magnum opus that is also a masterful thriller.

Connie Palmen: The Laws

A debut novel which won the European Novel of the Year Award about unconventional love spanning seven years. A young philosophy student Marie Deniet encounters several men: an astrologer, an epileptic, a philosopher, a priest, a physicist, an artist and a psychiatrist, and attempts to comprehend the laws these loves live by.

and The Friendship

Ara and Kit, two girls in the village school, seem to have nothing in common. Ara, the elder, is large, earthy and illiterate; Kit is lean, brainy and interested in abstractions like philosophy. After they leave school Ara cannot let Kit alone – she is drawn to her as a moth to a candle flame.

Jessica Durlacher. I couldn’t find any of her books in English but she is famous as she writes on the Holocaust and is mentioned in this book: The Holocaust Novel

Dutch crime

Janwillem van de Wetering: Outsider in Amsterdam

Piet Verboom is found dangling from a beam in the Hindist Society he ran as a restaurant-commune in a quiet Amsterdam street. Detective-Adjutant Gripstra and Sergeant de Gier of the Amsterdam police force are sent to investigate what looks like a simple suicide.
Outsider in Amsterdam is the first in the Amsterdam Cops series of internationally renowned mysteries.

Saskia Noort: The Dinner Club

On a cold winter’s night, an elegant villa goes up in flames. Evert Struyck, happily married, father of two and successful business man, dies in the fire. His wife, Babette and the children manage to escape. Babette is part of a group of five women, known as “the dinner club”, who meet regularly and whose husbands do business together. Karen, a dinner club member, takes Babette into her house after the fire, but soon discovers that the friendships in the dinner club are not as unconditional as they seem. It becomes clear that some people have benefited from Evert’s death. Within weeks another member of the club falls from the balcony of a hotel and dies. Karen starts to put the pieces together. White-collar crime, fraud and adultery are the putrefying glue that has kept the dinner club together. Not for much longer. Set in a world of affluent suburbs, flashy 4×4’s and country clubs, familiar to readers in the UK and the US, “The Dinner Club” is a psychological thriller about a group of people desperately hanging on to the outer varnish of their lives. Some of them will defend their material success at any price. Imagine “Desperate Housewives” scripted by Patricia Highsmith. That’s “The Dinner Club”

Maarten t’Hart: The Sundial

The Sundial opens with Leonie Kuyper attending the funeral of her best friend Roos Berczy. She has always felt a little overshadowed by her friend’s glamorous looks and successful career so when she discovers she is the sole heir to Roos’s estate Leonie, an impoverished translator, cannot refuse. Leonie gradually begins to assume Roos’s identity, and as questions arise about her friend’s past, her curiosity becomes piqued. Leonie’s investigations soon unearth certain suspicious circumstances surrounding Roos’s death and the culprit, alarmed by this, springs into action.

I’m planning on reading either Hoffman’s Hunger or Phantom Pain soon.

If you think of reading books in Dutch, it might also be worth trying the literature of Suriname. I have one or two books but they have not been translated.

Does anyone have other suggestions and/or know the books?

If you are interested in a Dutch read along taking place in June, please visit Iris on Books

Phantom Pain

20 thoughts on “Dutch Literature Recommendations

    • You are welcome, I hope you find interesting books. Nooteboom has written better books than Paradise Lost but compared to what’s out there it’s still a great book. I didn’t want to link too many. I loved Rituelen/Rituale or whatever it is called in French and English. Why not do the tour, just space it out nicely or it will be too much.

  1. Caroline

    Did you know that Iris at IrisonBooks is planning a Dutch literature month in June?

    I too learnt Dutch …but it sadly left me when I moved to Germany. However, I can recommend a few more titles that have been translated into English.

    The Dark Room of Damocles – W F Hermans (my favourite Dutch novel).
    Anything by Louis Couperus – I am particulary fond of The Hidden Force and Eline Vere and am planning rereading one or the other in June.
    I may also reread F Bordewijk’s Character.

    I have a pile of newly translated Dutch titles in the TBR:
    The Tea Lords – Hella S Haasse
    Caesarion – Tomy Wieringa
    Bride Flight – Marieke van der Pol

    • Thanks so much, Lizzy. These are great recommendations. I saw The Dark Room of Damocles and wasn’t sure which one to add but Beyond Sleep was on my TBR pile. I need to get The Dark Room of Damocles now too. Thanks also for telling about the Dutch literature month. June isn’t too busy on my side, it might be feasible.
      I don’t use a lot of Dutch either. It’s tricky not to mix it up with German. I started learning Swedish now and I am not sure it isn’t easier as more distinct from German. Dutch has so many German words that have another menaing in Dutch and the gender chnages. Same word, different gender.

    • Thank you for mentioning June!

      I really want to read The Dark Room of Damocles as well as read something by Louis Couperus. I read Eline Vere in high school, but I have a feeling I might appreciate it more now. I also read Character and The Tea Lords in high school. I am currently reading another book by Haasse.

      Also, Caroline: Thank you for the comment on my blog. I would love for you to participate. If you want to, I’d love it if you would contribute a guest post. Same goes for LizzySiddal. Is it okay if I link to your post here sometime soon, in reference to June?

      • I’m glad LizzySiddal left the comment. I would love to do a guest post if I can choose the book. I have so many books on the TBR pile already. Maybe I’ll have to read it in the German translation. Most books i have, apart from Jessica Durlacher and another by Leon de Winter, are in translation.
        I’ll have a look at your other suggestions.
        It’s a great idea.
        Please go ahead and link it.
        I will also add a link to your post.

    • You should find more than one book to your liking. It’s a very fresh literature. The books I read were always very philosophical but in a light way, very inspiring, not gloomy or depressing. Looking at Lizzy’s and Iris’ suggestions there is still far more to find than what I know. Maybe you will also join in June?

  2. Pingback: Spotlight on the Wordpress Book Bloggers! « Randomize ME

  3. I have no suggestion to you because I havent yet read any Dutch literature.

    hunger and outsider in amsterdam look very intriquing. I have read some teasers from hunger

    • I have read Outsider in Amsterdam and it was really good and I will read Hoffman’s Hunger soon. I think it’s worth exploring Dutch literature. I haven’t really been disappointed so far.

  4. I’ve read one of Sakia Noort’s books, which I really liked and must read the one listed here and Harry Mulisch’s The Assault. Thanks for the heads up–I saw Iris’s post, but as always am so behind in things haven’t had a chance to follow up. I should try and read along as I have a few books on my pile–Arthur Japin’s In Lucia’s Eyes and one or two of de Wetering’s as well!

    • Oh great, I’m sure it will be an interesting readalong, I’m looking forward to it. I need to try another one of Saskia Noort. de Wetering is quite different. I like the author and read his account of his stay at a Zen cloister. Hilarious.

  5. Pingback: A Month of Dutch Literature: Resource List (1) | Iris on Books

  6. Pingback: Dutch Reading Month in June « Beauty is a Sleeping Cat

  7. Advice Please !
    I would like to buy a classic Dutch Classic as a Christmas Present for my 91 year-old Dutch born Mother. I looked up Reynard the Fox, but it seems full of dark ire and irony. I was thinking more along the lines of a Dutch equivalent of Dickens- easily digestible, uplifting in the end, and preferably available in large print format. Any suggestions ?

  8. Pingback: Dutch Literature Month and Beryl Bainbridge Week in June « Beauty is a Sleeping Cat

  9. Pingback: Dutch Lit Month 2012: Introduction | Iris on Books

  10. Pingback: The Laws by Connie Palmen | Iris on Books

Thanks for commenting, I love to hear your thoughts

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.