We spent the couple of days after Christmas in Amsterdam. As you can see at the left, much of our time was looking at works of art. This painting is, of course, Rembrandt’s Night Watch, from the Rijksmuseum. and I would estimate that there were around five hundred people in the room when I took it and I only just managed to take it when the woman next to me briefly stopped waving her arms around, pointing out details to her friend. Indeed, the whole city was packed as were the Van Gogh Museum and the Hermitage. The secret is to buy your ticket on-line before you go, otherwise you have to queue to buy your ticket, which can take up to an hour.


However, I did manage to visit what I was told was the best book shop in Amsterdam, Schelterna. You can see some of their books in the photo to the right. New books that the Dutch are reading include:

A F van de Heijden’s De Ochtengave (= The Morning Gift), a historical novel set in 1672, commissioned to commemorate the Treaties of Nijmegen, 330 years ago. As far as I can see only one of his books has been translated into English. Tonio, Een requiemroman was published this year as Tonio. A Requiem Memoir by Scribe in Melbourne. It is a tribute to his son who was killed in a car accident, aged twenty-one.
Dimitri Verhulst’s Bloedboek (= Blood Book) is his rewriting of some of the stories from the first five books of the Bible, which a Dutch newspaper described as a gruesome bible. Verhulst, a Belgian writer, has four books translated into English, with a fifth, De laatkomer, coming out this year as The Latecomer.
Jeroen Brouwers’ Het hout (= Wood) came out last year but has appeared in paperback this year and was being promoted. It is about sexual abuse in a Catholic boys’ boarding school. His Bezonken rood is available in English as Sunken Red.
Connie Palmen’s Jij zegt het (= You Say It) is about the Ted Hughes/Sylvia Plath relationship from the Hughes’ point of view. Two of her novels have been translated into English: her first, De Wetten as The Laws and her second De Vriendschap as Friendship.
Gustaaf Peek’s Godin, held (= Goddess, Hero) is about the long-term love affair between Tessa and Marius. They met at school and continue their affair, despite both marrying other partners. The story starts with Tessa’s death and works backwards. Apart from one story, he has not been translated into English. This book also came out in 2014 but appeared in paperback this year.
My Dutch friends tell me that Thomas Rosenboom’s Publike Werken (= Public Works) is one of the best recent Dutch novels. It actually came out in 1999 but was released as a film this year so is in the news and in the book shops. It is a complex story, set in the late nineteenth century, involving two cousins – one a violin maker in Amsterdam whose houses developers want to buy and the other a pharmacist involved in certain shady dealings – who get together, nominally to help some peat diggers emigrate to the United States. I do not need to tell you that neither this nor any of his other works have been translated into English.
Ernest van der Kwast’s De ijsmakers (= The Icemakers) is about an Italian family that spends the summer in Rotterdam but the winters in an Italian valley where much of their time seems to be spent in having sex. But then one of them Giovanni, has to choose – poetry or ice cream? Of course, it is not available in English but is coming out in German next year.
Nicolien Mizee’s Toen kwam moeder met een mes (= Then Came Mother With a Knife) came out ten years ago. The sequel, De Halfbroer (= The Half-Brother) came out this year and it is a complicated saga of Marly Sanders’ family.
Maarten ‘t Hart’s Magdalena, a novel about his mother, also came out this year. Four of his novels have been translated into English.

They are also reading foreign books: Javier MaríasAsí empieza lo malo (Thus Bad Begins) (out in English next year), Almudena Grandes‘s Las tres bodas de Manolita (= The Three Weddings of Manolita) (not availabe in English), David Mitchell‘s Slade House, Rupert Thomson‘s Katherine Carlyle, Leila S ChudoriPulang (Home), Colm Tóibin’s Nora Webster, Kevin Barry’s Beatlebone, Jean-Marie Blas de Roblès’s L’île du Point Némo (= The Island of Nemo Point) (not yet in English), and even Garth Risk Hallberg’s City on Fire and Jordi Llobregat’s El secret de Vesalius (also not available in English). I do not have to mention Franzen, Ferrante, Knausgaard and Harper Lee, though I will.

It is amazing that there are several novels available in Dutch which are not available in English but I have said this sort of thing before and will doubtless say it again. And, of course, wouldn’t it be nice if more Dutch novels came out in English?

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. The Untranslated

    When I saw the title of your post my first thought was that it would be a review of Ian McEwan’s abominable novel. Thanks for this write-up! It is always interesting and useful to see what books are currently popular in another country. The Dutch are pretty prompt when it comes to translating foreign literature, something English-language publishers should learn from them. Hope you had a great time in this beautiful city!

    1. tmn

      I’ve already done the McEwan novel. Not sure I would say it was abominable but certainly not a great novel. The city, however, was wonderful.

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