Dutch Literature Month and Beryl Bainbridge Week in June

If it hadn’t been for Iris’ Dutch Literature Month last year, maybe Lizzy and I wouldn’t even have thought of organizing a German Literature Month. Who knows, in any case I enjoyed Dutch Literature Month last year and I’m glad Iris is hosting it again in June. Needless to say that I am joining. Details can be found here.

I have a few plans for this year.

One book I would like to read is Hedwig’s Journey by Frederik van Eeden. I’ve got a copy from Holland Park Press and it sounded very good. The first translation has been published in 1902. This edition is a revised new translation.

Sample passages and a long description of the book can be found on the editor’s page. Here’s what makes me want to read it.

Outwardly, Hedwig is a typical girl growing up in a well-to-do family in a sleepy provincial town. Inwardly, she feels things very deeply and has a strong sense of self, and can all of a sudden feel very depressed.
‘It was the afternoon, between four and five o’clock, that she recalled with most dislike; …, and the worst of all the first day of the week in the middle of winter.’

The second possibility is The Tea Lords by Hella Haasse. Iris will host a readalong of this classic and although I don’t think I will join, I wanted to let you know, just in case you might be interested. Here is the blurb:

Rudolf leaves his comfortable origins in Delft by ship for Java to help run the family’s estates there. He moves from plantation to plantation, attempting to understand the ways of the local peoples, their version of Islam and their relationship to their land. On a visit to the capital, Jakarta, he falls in love with a teenage girl, Jenny, who he courts surreptitiously via his sister, with grave consequences for the reality of their relationships. Eventually they marry, and make a hard colonist-couple’s life theirs, bear, lose and raise children, before Jenny on her visit to the home country discovers all the comforts of which she has been deprived in Java. Back at the plantation homestead, as the back-breaking work of establishing and maintaining business takes its toll on Rudolf, Jenny becomes estranged from him, and the bitter resentments of relatives eat at her until a terrible solution is achieved.

I have many other books on my piles. I might read another Cees Nooteboom this year, I still have a few I haven’t read yet.

If you are looking for suggestions for Dutch Literature Month here is a post I did last year Dutch Literature Recommendations.

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There is another event I wanted to make you aware of and that is Beryl Bainbridge Week hosted by Gaskella from June 18 – 24. I already left a hasty comment saying I will be too busy to join but I have still got three unread copies which makes me think I can’t let this week pass without attempting to read at least one. I discovered Beryl Bainbridge last year on Guy’s blog and read The Dressmaker which I found excellent. The three books I still got on my piles are

The Bottle Factory Outing

An Awfully Big Adventure

The Girl in the Polka Dot Dress

How about you? Do you have your Dutch Literature choices ready? Are you in for Beryl Bainbridge Week?

Cees Nooteboom: Mokusei! (1982)

Cees Nooteboom’s novella Mokusei! Een liefdesverhaal – Mokusei! a Love story is my second contribution to Iris’ Dutch Literature Month. It is currently out of print in English but there are German and French translations available.

Cees Nooteboom is one of those writers who simply never disappoint me. While reading this short book (70 pages) I was once more wondering how he does it. How can he write such stories that are feathery and light and still so full of meaning. His writing is inventive and informative, playful and deep, beautiful and melancholic. Apart from Nooteboom I know only the Italian writer Antonio Tabucchi with a similar style.

Arnold Presser comes to Japan to shoot pictures of a woman in a Kimono standing in front of Mount Fuji. He has a image of Japan in his mind that is very idealized. He thinks, he knows what the real Japan is like. It is the Japan of Kimono’s, Basho’s Haikus, Hokusai’s paintings, the Japan of the many views of Mount Fuji, the Japan of rigid traditions and beautiful gestures. The modern Japan which adopts Western traditions, buys into consumerism, the big cities, the traffic and pollution are not Japan for him. Same as he has fixed ideas about the country he knows what a beautiful Japanese woman has to look like. It takes a while until he finds the perfect model but then he discovers Satoko.

He photographs her and falls in love with her. Their story will last five years. Five years in which they are more separate than together, five years of secret love-making and intense moments in which she will never tell him about her life, never introduce him to his parents. Presser has three names for her, her real name Satoko, the one he calls her to himself, Snow Mask, that implies that he cannot read her expressions and the term of endearment he uses when he calls her, Mokusei. Mokusei is one of the rare Japanese flowers with a scent and seems to perfectly fit his mysteriously withdrawn lover.

Mokusei! is masterful for many reasons. It’s a short, intense and tragic love story, and a meditation on Japan and the images and ideas we can have of a foreign country. What is so amazing is that Nooteboom writes at the same time about an idealized Japan, the real Japan and manages to adopt the Japanese writing style. The concept of wabi sabi pervades this novella on every page. There is a scene in which Presser goes for a walk in a garden and sees a dead leaf hanging not on a branch but on a torn spider web. This image captures beauty, fragility and perishability.

Mokusei! is a beautiful and profound piece of writing and I am glad I finally read it thanks to Iris’ event.

Dutch Reading Month in June

I just wanted to raise awareness for the upcoming Dutch reading month that will be organized by Iris on Books. She already hosted the read along for Harry Mulisch’s The Discovery of Heaven and now, all through June, we will be reading Dutch books. There are already quite a lot of people who want to participate. I did a post a while back with Dutch reading recommendations. If you would like to participate, have a look at my Dutch Book Recommendations or at those Iris is giving on her Blog.

I’m not sure what I will read but I enjoy the fact that I don’t have to decide in advance.  I have two new books on my TBR pile, one is Tommy Wieringa’s Caesarion, the other one Willem Frederik Herman’s The Darkroom of Damocles. Both have been recommended by Lizzy (Lizzy’s Literary Life) and by Iris.

You can also find recommendations on The Dutch Foundation For Literature.


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