Amsterdam stories by Nescio
Translated by Damon Searls (he also select the stories in the collection)
Nescio was the pen name of J H F Gronloh ,he was a succesful Dutch businessman a director of the Holland – Bombay trading company ,he wrote in his free time and used the pseudonym Nescio is a Latin phrase meaning I don’t know he published very little,as he want to keep his writing secret . But is so highly regarded in Holland that his collective works were named in the Nrc’s best dutch novels top ten at number 8 and was the only collection that was in top ten all the others were novels .I first heard of him maybe twenty years ago in a dutch bar when I was out visiting the Dutch city Nimwegen which was near where I lived in Germany for a time .I had completely forgotten about him til I read Trevor’s post at Mooske and Gripe I knew it had finally hit us in English .So I picked a copy up for Iris on books Dutch Lit month as it seemed a great choice and is my first venture into pre ww2 dutch fiction .
So the collection is made up of 9 pieces of Necio’s writings , his three best regard pieces are in the collection .The freeloader a story of a Koekebakker the narrator ,the mean of this name in dutch is silly bungler and by the title you meet the other character in the story Japi he is a man who really want to do very little in his life to say this story is only 31 pages long you get a lot for your money it is rather like stones in the landslide ,where a life is compacted into a small space but without feeling like it has .Japi would be a slacker these days ,but like many of the original Gen x’s they turn into successful businessmen .After reading The freeloader I feel this is maybe the most autobiographical of the piece in the book as thou he was looking back on a point in time he lost at some point .The other two well-known stories in the collection are Young titans is similar to The freeloader except a larger group of men they feel like same idea of a story but worked in two different way .The other really well-known story is Little poet a piece Nescio was inspired to write by a little girl he knew ,he then gave her the story to read but he said she didn’t get it ,this was the longest story in the book and could almost be counted as a Novella .The other piece later in the book have a feel of the war coming and being there .But I did get really struck by some lines in Insula dei (island of god in latin ) .That mention in it Nimwegen a dutch city where I spent many a great weekend out (this is the German spelling as I lived in germany near it for 18 months I always use this spelling ).
Chateau to the gardens .Its like the view from westerbouwing but everything is bigger ,and instead of Nijmegen with its little hills you have start of the alps ,far away and hazy .And the Rhone in the landscape ,and lots of trees ,lots of pointed poplars ,fields in many different shades of grey ,and little house ,grand but as the same time flowery and charming ,now and then a train in the distance .reminiscent of Montferland sometime ,of the view from the hotel there ,the Cleve towers could be mountains opposite .
Loved this poetic passage but also mentions where I lived in germany Kleve .
So Nescio was he worth the 20 year wait yes he was ,he fell into that band of writers I love from Maugham here in the uk of human bondage Philip is rather like some of the characters in these stories ,Hamsun hunger the starving or struggling man a character that also appears in Paul Leppins Blaugast and Walser (also published by NYRB ).The tales of wayward manhood ,growing up ,drink and bohemian style sometimes failing sometimes going the other way and becoming a success ,He is a master of what may be called neo realism taking what the likes of Balzac and the French in the late 19th century did to the next level .He also evokes an Amsterdam that is the city of the foot and wandering round it ,those dark nooks that may know be something else but then were cafes dens of chat and thoughts and dreams .Brel wrote a song about Amsterdam you feel this is the city he was describing expanded out the rough character are a back drop in these stories but this is a city that has more to it than we know .
Have you read this book ?