I've got three Stefan Brijs books - but I haven't read them. This Flemish author caught my attention a couple of years ago, but for some reason I just didn't read the books.
The three Brijs books I have on my shelves are:
Kruistochten (Crusades; 1998), which is a series of polemical essays, not a novel, about his literary wanderings past a number of Flemish Catholic authors, including Maurice Gilliams, who has been translated into English, and Karel van de Woestijne, the major Symbolist poet. The title is literally "cross-journeys", so it's a pun on Crusades and criss-cross wanderings.
Villa Keetje Tippel (Keetje Tippel's Villa; 2000). This is again non-fiction and tells the true story of a villa and its occupant, the Flemish author Neel Doff (1858-1942), who was a pauper's child from the Netherlands who wrote in French later in life. Her nickname was "Keetje Tippel" (no allusion to drink). Writing in French was most unusual for someone born in the Netherlands.
Twee levens - een kerstnovelle (Two Lives - a Christmas Novella; 2001). Fiction at last. The brief blurb says: "Two lives. Two houses. Two neighbours. One point in time. Christmas Eve, 2000. Twenty-past seven. Snow is falling." And that is all. Sounds intriguing.
For those who read Dutch, his website:
Stefan Brijs - Home
For those who don't:
NLPVF:: Biography: Stefan Brijs
and the novel Sybarite has got, whose Dutch edition has been reprinted 22 (!) times, in a total edition of 100,000 copies:
NLPVF:: Stefan Brijs: Angelmaker (De engelenmaker)
Here he is, by courtesy of photographer Wim Daneels:
Stefan Brijs has written eight books of various sorts to date.
Last edited by Eric; 07-Jan-2009 at 21:34.
When I wrote #42 yesterday, I had totally forgotten what had braked my enthusiasm for Stefan Brijs and his works. I now remember, on closer examination of "Kruistochten", as described.
These "cross-journeys" of Brijs were cross-journeys in a more literal sense than I remembered yesterday: Brijs goes to the graves of 8 Flemish authors, calls them all "forgotten" authors and does rather put the emphasis on their deaths. Neither Maurice Gilliams nor Karel van de Woestijne were forgotten when Brijs wrote the book.
Brijs also starts the book of essays with mention of the book by Dutch author Jeroen Brouwers, who was even more into death than Brijs. In 1983, Brouwers published a book called "De laatste deur" (The Last Door) in which he focusses, in essays, on the suicides of 18 (!) Dutch and Flemish authors.
All in all, the combination of Brijs and Brouwers, regarding death, including suicide, seemed a bit too morbid for me at the time. Nor am I any longer inclined to read the Brijs book right now. I think his book on the Dutch writer in French, Neel Doff, will be more stimulating for my taste. Or his winter tale.
On the Water by Hans Maarten Van Den Brink (translated by Paul Vincent) arrived yesterday, recommended by someone on another forum.
Thanks, Sybarite. To be perfectly honest, I'd never heard of Hans Maarten van den Brink before, although I've been living in the Netherlands for nigh on twenty years. But I'm not at all into sport, nor a journo, which may explain it.
Paul Vincent, however, is a familar name. He led a translation workshop I attended some years ago and has translated books by Elsschot, Boon and Gezelle, i.e. mainly Flemish authors.
This is what the Dutch-language Wiki says about van den Brink:
Hans Maarten van den Brink - Wikipedia
He has written at least seven books. But I can't really find anything on him in English.
I have now read about 40 pages of Jeroen Brouwers' book Sisyphus' bakens (i.e. The Beacons of Sisyphus), which examines in great and humorous detail why Brouwers refused a book prize of 16,000 euros awarded by the Dutch Language Union in combination with ministers, the royal family and so on, as mentioned on the Nobel thread here.
By now, I am in two minds about this book, which is some 160 pages long in total. While all his sleek put-downs and burlesque correspondence are amusing, the book does strike me as very self-indulgent. He lashes out at everyone and every institution, mostly naming names, and does begin to strike the British reader in me as the product of a culture where it pays to be a betweter (the Dutch version of the more well-known German Besserwisser).
We catch glimpses of other Dutch and Flemish writers and columnists, and it is rewarding to get an angle on them. But for the outsider, the foreigner, this sort of bickering will not strike many chords, as all these Dutch-speaking members of the mondial intelligentsia are totally unknown abroad. Brouwers seems to have taken up the torch of long-distance complainer W.F. Hermans, an accomplished novelist who had complaint about the Dutch status quo as the second string to his bow.
Which brings me to my kernel question: why is it that the literature written in the Dutch language in two countries whose population totals some 21 million people, is so much less visible internationally than the literatures of the several Scandinavian countries? The Scandinavians have indeed jumped on the crime novel bandwagon, but I still feel that Dutch literature doesn't really have what you could call a national profile in many other countries. When have the Dutch and Flemings been Guest of Honour at any of the major European book fairs recently? If they have, have they left an reverberations among the reading classes?
Peter D, as a born and bred Dutchman (as I assume), what have you to say about the image of Dutch literature in Europe and beyond? And indeed, in the Netherlands itself.
Dutch literature continued:
I bought a novel by the serious Dutch novelist Maarten 't Hart the other day. His latest. Promoted in all Dutch bookshops. Promoted along with another of his books in a calculated-calibrated bookselling campaign. Is he promoted in the English-speaking countries? I don't know. A couple of his books have been translated. One of them a non-fiction book about laboratory rats.
Anyhow, I then saw 't Hart in his "Maartje" guise (TV chat-show transvestite) on the front page of a Dutch new mag, and now tonight on the Dutch equivalent of Newsnight: Pauw and Witteman, comp?red by a rather pale gent and one who resembles a peacock in his tousled narcissism.
I am disappointed that the Netherlands uses all the promotional means it has to flog one limelight author in this way. Why can't Dutch authors stop doing media tricks to draw attention to themselves? I reckon that Maarten / Maartje would be a perfectly respectable author in foreign circles, were he to wipe off his smeary make-up and stop posing on TV, either as a man or as a woman.
Authors write books, OK?
In a previous post I mentioned that Dutch are in general not proud of their language. Many seem to suffer of a inferiority complex as I then named it. Everybody can speak English and some native Dutch speakers even claim that they can express themselves better in that language because it is richer. An often heard remark which annoys me terribly... I'm not sure if this has a connection with the fact that Dutch literature doesn't really have a profile, but maybe it contributes. It's an interesting question to ponder upon a bit when I will be looking at my country as an outsider the coming 5 months as I will be in Thailand and Cambodia for my work. Thanks for bringing it up!
Maarten 't Hart is a very good story teller. I really like his fluent accessible style and his sometimes ironic but 'sharp' humor. My only problem is that he seems a bit repetitive to me. The message that he was damaged by his orthodox christian upbringing in the town of Maassluis was already very clear after two or three of his first novels. But it keeps coming up everytime. Anyway, a recommendable author, I would say. It's typical for Dutch media to always come up with the Maartje-period again, everytime 't Hart publishes something. It's a long time back. If I were him I would try to avoid the subject. Maybe he?s too much of a nice guy to refuse questions about the subject. He seems quite polite and friendly to me, not a typical example of a betweter.
Peter D: I like putting difficult questions.
Having quite a few years' experience of the Netherlands, and speaking the language pretty fluently for a foreigner, I do ponder on such things as national attitudes to literature. I'm not trying to make profound sociological analyses; I'm simply reacting to what I see around me.
Dutch literary translation culture into Dutch seems very good. The Dutch don't only suck up to the English-speaking world, but do genuinely translate from quite a few languages. I'm always impressed by the fact, for instance, that Polish literature is taken seriously by a few translators (e.g. the late Gerard Rasch and Karol Lesman), and that the late August Willemsen put Brazilian literature on the map, almost single-handedly.
Some efforts do come to grief, even from English: when one Zwolle translator started translating Anthony Powell's "A Dance to the Music of Time" suite of novels for the second time (only 4 of the 12 novels ended up in Dutch the first time round) the publisher also stopped after the same four books.
But in general, I enjoy browsing in the translation sections of Dutch bookshops, as you can often find something new, from quite a few languages. Even the Estonian novel by Jaan Kross that I translated into English has appeared as "Luchtfietsen" a year or so ago (translator: Jesse Niemeijer).
I cannot, however, understand why Dutch people in general hold the literature of the Netherlands and Flanders in such low esteem, and do so little to promote especially the older, more classical, writers abroad.
Dutch literature does indeed, in my opinion, lack a profile. The Productiefonds, the main promotional agency, appears to encourage people to translate new works of literature, on a one-off basis. But they do not appear to be interested in creating a canon stretching back decades. You can soon see what a ragbag of different authors is available in English by looking at the "Dutch literature in translation" shelves in various mainstream bookshops in Amsterdam, Utrecht, The Hague, etc.
I've only read one Maarten 't Hart novel and have now bought the new one. But I agree, from reading the blurbs and reviews, that you get the impression that he's got a bit stuck in a rut, regarding subject matter, involving a lonely teenage boy cycling around and finding some girl or other to fall in love with. Then agonising in a truly Dutch Protestant (for me Gereformeerd, Hervormd, whatever, are Protestant, i.e. not Roman Catholic) way about the stuffiness of his background. It cannot be denied that some Dutch Catholic and Jewish writers are more liberated, in this respect.
Sadly, I don't think that 't Hart has any choice about his Dame Edna Everage lookalike phase. The babbling classes in the fenced compound in Hilversum, and the weekly mags, will want to exploit this phenomenon in the same way that the weekly Vrij Nederland first exposed Adriaan van Dis' blatant plagiarism of an American author, then started interviewing him some time later to keep the "news about van Dis" bandwagon rolling. Media hype is the antithesis of a sound literary culture.
I opened one of the sections of my Dutch daily Trouw this morning and what did I see: an interview with Dutch author of 30 years' standing, Oek de Jong. The interview looks interesting, but the first paragraph is nevertheless off-putting:
Which means:Ik heb een echte gereformeerde opvoeding gehad, het hele pakket: ik zat op christelijke scholen, ik ging op zondag twee keer naar de kerk en ik was ? dat heb ik nog eens uitgerekend ? wel zes of zeven keer per dag bij een gebedsmoment aanwezig. God was, binnen die opvoeding, een vanzelfsprekendheid. Maar ik ben van nature een scepticus: ik begon al snel te twijfelen.
Nothing wrong with all that, except that the other author they've been plugging recently in the press, Maarten 't Hart, as discussed elsewhere of the WLF, is another Protestant sceptic who feels stifled by his Protestant background. You do get the feeling that the latest trend in Dutch literature is agonising about your Christian childhood and your reaction against it.I had a real Dutch Protestant upbringing, the whole works: I attended Protestant schools, went to church twice on Sundays, and was - I've actually calculated this - present some six or seven times a day when prayers were being said. God was a self-evident part of my upbringing. But I am a sceptic by nature: I soon began to doubt.
Maybe Dutch authors could find something else to write about. The Trouw interview slot is constructed as a kind of mock Ten Commandments, where the author replies to the various commandments in turn. I don't find the Dutch people I meet particularly religious, but Trouw has always had a bit of a penchant for religion.
It's true Eric, there is a group of writers who contributed to this pool of books on their conservative christian (especially protestant) upbringing: Maarten 't Hart, Jan Wolkers, Maarten Biesheuvel, Oek de Jong, Jan Siebelink and some others. I think this is the logical product of one of the phenomena that charachterizes Dutch post-WWII history: 'verzuiling'. Verzuiling (there's a probably an English word for it that I don't know) refers to the quite strict seperation of Dutch society into what's sometimes called subcultures or even subsocieties. The period lasted until the early 1980's with some extensions into the nineties (and even now there are some last 'zuilen' standing). The Protestant zuil might have been the one that was most strict and isolated and maybe also the most suppressing one.
As said, this subject matter has been touched upon quite extensively in Dutch literature and in my opinion it has produced both rubbish and very fine art. An example of the latter would be ?Knielen op een bed violen? by Jan Siebelink. A deeply sensitive novel, describing a man who sinks into the depths of black Calvinism (as it is called on the cover). It describes the sincere struggles of the man himself and of the people who are affected by this process. The difference with other books on this subject is that Siebelink never adopts a cynic, ironic or angry tone. He writes with love, not pathetic, about a past full of pain and misunderstandings.
Maarten 't Hart does use cynicism and irony a lot. Sometimes leading to passages that make me think 'ok, ok, the point is clear' but other times to brilliant descriptions of narrow-mindedness, such as the scene in 'De Jacobsladder' where a church schism takes place. One group in the church is backing the reverend who baptizes babies with just one hand of water, while the other group backs the reverend who uses three, baptizing in the name of the Father (water), the Son (new water) and the Holy Spirit (again new water). The arguments used by both sides are hillarious, but in the end leading to a painful schism. A mirror for those churces that indeed seperated into smaller sections for reasons sometimes less meaningful than the example used by 't Hart. By the way my favorite 't Hart novels are Het woeden der gehele wereld and De Nakomer.
Anyway, I think every society has its subjects that are dealt with more than others. It's a result of its history. Verzuiling is the Duch example. It's not a recent trend in Dutch literature. It has been there for twenty years or more and is over its peak. It can hardly be found among authors below the age of 45.
New authors come up with new subjects. One of the most promising among them is in my view Tommy Wieringa. I will post a profile soon at another place on this forum.
Glad you've still got time to debate here, Peter D. You'll surely be packing your bags soon for East Asia.
Britain doesn't have verzuiling, and I doubt if the inelegant "pillarification" would enlighten anyone. But I am intrigued by this phenomenon. In Britain we have always had a mix of Protestant, Catholic, Jewish and, latterly athe?st and Muslim authors. But the different "pillars" that the various faiths and non-faiths represent have not set up barriers to others. (The marriage of working class East End of London Jew, Harold Pinter, with Lady Antonia Fraser, of Anglo-Catholic aristocratic background, is symbolic of this, somehow.)
I shall look out for the Siebelink. "Kneeling on a Bed of Violets" is an unusual title. As for Calvinism, it always intrigues me that the Netherlands is a land of contrasts. You can find, within a stone's throw of central Amsterdam, shops with huge dildos and pornography in the shop window, but 30 kilometres away, there are villages where you are not allowed to cycle on Sundays. How hypocritical modern-day Calvinists are nowadays I do not know, but I remember that the short-skirted author Lydia Rood used to live in Marken, theoretically a pretty sober village.
I had an odd experience in a bookshop in Boulder City the other day. No, not Calvinists, but a whiff of Belgophobia. In a perfectly decent suburban bookshop, I pointed out to the woman behind the counter when buying a couple of books, that there weren't many Flemish authors represented in their shop. She mumbled something about "spanningen" (i.e. tensions) and I wondered whether the tensions over the dredging of the Western Scheldt, the waterway from the North Sea to Antwerp which the Dutch are reluctant to clear of mud, had spilt over into a conflict where Hollanders would turn their noses up at Flemish authors. Surely not!? Revenge for the Flemings snarling at Dutch oysters? Surely, the Dutch-speaking peoples can't be that petty.
Tommy Wieringa is a totally new name to me. I'll try to find something by him. I see from his website that he'll be in Ilkley (Yorkshire), Birmingham and Durham during October, and will then be moving on to Berlin for a couple of months.
Tommy Wieringa is someone I recommend to everybody. On several occasions I have given his books as a gift to friends on their birthdays, although I knew other titles were on their lists . There are two titles I would like to put to everybody's attention:
- Joe Speedboot, translated in English by Sam Garret as Joe Speedboat (that title was not too hard to translate, I think)
- Ik was nooit in Isfahaan (no idea, if it's been translated)
It's sure worth a check...
By the way, I am already in Thailand. Packed a heavy a suitcase with books. Cloths is something that I can buy over there, I thought.
Yes, Peter D, it was a bit weird. It's a nice bookshop, on the Leusderweg, which you may know, as Boulder City doesn't have so many good bookshops. I browsed their outside book table today and found the sequel to Walschap's "Houtekiet" which I bought, plus a Paemel, a Geerts, and a few other things, which I didn't. There was a different lady behind the counter today, but when I pointed out that there were several Flemish titles outside (i.e. on the cheap books table), there was no reaction. I have a Dutch, not Flemish accent, so she can't have suspected a provocation. But she said nothing at all.
I saw the Wieringa book "Joe Speedboot" (Dutch version) in the AKO bookshop yesterday. But my budget is limited, so I'll have to wait till I find him in the library. I'm sure they'll have the English version in Waterstone's in Amsterdam.
Returning to Flanders, I'm doing my bit to help their literature to get recognition in Britain, if not in the Netherlands, by editing "The Dedalus Book of Flemish Fantasy". There has already be one of Dutch fantasy. This one will be anthology, published by Dedalus, of about twenty stories and excerpts and will be translated by Paul Vincent, a former London University lecturer who has previously translated Boon and Gezelle.
Talking of "schoon", I always smile at the title of the Johan Daisne novel "Hoe schoon was mijn school". Must have been written by the cleaner, don't you think... (For the uninitiated: "schoon" means "clean" in modern Netherlands Dutch, whilst it still means "beautiful" in Flemish usage.)
Well, Thailand is a bit different to Utrecht, I imagine. I once bought second-hand a book containing lots of Thai stories in English. I never read it, but it was at least an introduction to the names of their authors.
Not a Dutch author, just a nosy Dutch politician who is banned from Britain:
Picture Gallery Pop-Up
Now that we're talking about Dutch and Flemmish literature, did you (or someone else) ever read something by writers from the other Dutch language area, Netherlands Antilles and Surinam? It seems there are some very interesting authors from there. The afore mentioned Tommy Wieringa, who spent part of his childhood on the Netherlands Antilles, recommends Tip Marugg and Boeli van Leeuwen. Unfortunately I don't have access here in Thailand to Dutch language literature, I will have to stick to the books I brought for the coming months... That's one of the main things I will miss, I'm afraid, spending (too much) time in Broese or De Slegte or other interesting booksops in the Netherlands.
Last edited by peter_d; 27-Sep-2009 at 16:21.
Peter D, some details of the book are to be found here:
Dedalus Books Catalogue
Dedalus Books Catalogue - The Dedalus Book of Flemish Fantasy
It will be published in the middle of next year. I, as editor, have been in close consultation with the translator and the Belgian literary fund, and we've now got about 25 different authors, represented by stories and a few excerpts from novels by Timmermans back in 1909, to Rachida Lamrabet last year. Big names such as Boon, Lampo, Daisne, Ruyslinck, Hertmans, van den Broeck, Terrin, Verbeke, Verhelst and (Paul) Claes will be represented.
Incidentally, I see they're also publishing an Estonian anthology in the spring. Will have to get that one too; my last Estonian "venture" was the film-version of Sugisball.
Yes, Liam, I'm translating a rather syntactically demanding story right now for the Estonian one. It is about a postwar anti-Soviet Estonian guerrilla, but concentrates on the act of memory, quoting McTaggart, more than the usual blood and guts stuff. So it's more philosophical.
The difference between the Estonian anthology and all the rest is that some more realist stories are included. The term "fantasy" has been dropped from the title. Though some fantasy stories, such as one by a younger writer Mehis Heinsaar, are included. And the Mati Unt one is rather weird too.
I just read in the paper this morning that Erwin Mortier has won the AKO literary prize for Dutch and Flemish authors. This one's a Fleming.
Three books by him are available in English "Marcel", "Shutterspeed" and "My Fellow Skin". But not the book that won the prize this time.
As far as I can see by Googling, not one mainstream British daily has mentioned this prize recently, and its latest winner. I still ask, as I have done before:
There must be something wrong with Dutch-language literature from the point of of view of Britons. It seems to attract even less attention than that of Scandinavia, as mentioned, and indeed Eastern Europe. Really weird that The Netherlands is the first country you come to when you cross the North Sea, and the last couuntry in Europe you think about with regard to literature, masterpieces, famous authors, lively literary debate, manifestos, poetry-prose-plays-essays, and so on.Why is it that the literature written in the Dutch language in two countries whose population totals some 21 million people, is so much less visible internationally than the literatures of the several Scandinavian countries?
Peter D was at a loss as to why Dutch literature is especially shunned in Britain, with the exception of a handful of writers who are reviewed (e.g. Mulisch, Nooteboom), then disappear without trace. I don't know either, but there must be some subconscious or subliminal reason.
The only mention of the AKO winner in English I can find is at this usually eagle-eyed website in the States, where Michael Orthofer pounces on anything to do with prizes and translation:
the Literary Saloon at the complete review - 11 November 2009 Archive