Cheese by Willem Elsschot

 

 

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Cheese  by Willem Elsschot

Dutch fiction

Original title – Kaas

Translator – Sander Berg

Source = review copy

I was contact by Alma books as they are want to highlight  some of their back catalogue gems , I choose this and a book by Louis – Ferdinand Celine . I choose this as I had a happy memories of Holland and cheese , My father has done a lot of business in the Netherlands over the years and  about twenty years ago got a gift of some Cheese socks which he passed on to me the had a Edam hole style cheese with a little mouse looking out of a hole on each one , I loved those socks so a book about cheese , which from my time on the borders of Netherlands and spend a number of days in Nijmegen and surrounding area I know the dutch take the cheese seriously.

This Mr Van Sconnbeke comes from an old, wealthy family .He’s a bachelor and lives by himself in a big house in one of our most beautiful streets.

he has plenty of money, as do all his friends. These are for the most part judges , lawyers , merchants or retired businessmen.every member of this company possesses at least one car, with the exception of Mr Van Schoonbeke himself , my brother and me .But Mr Van Schoonbeke could own his car if he wished, and no one knows this better than his friends. Indeed, they think it’s rather curious and sometimes speak of him as “that old devil Albert”

The main reason for Frans is his friendship with Mr van Schoonbeke

Frans Laarmans is the main character of this book , he starts as a clerk in the novel in Antwerp . But has a chance to further his career and becomes a merchant in a much larger company egged on by his posh friends to take the job . This is where the problems begin with this new job where in a chance to impress his bosses and prove that a simple clerk like him is worth the job . He gets in a tangle with one supply with ordering to many as he get confused over what he has ordered with him then twenty tons of cheese turns up . Then he tries to get it sold but with no hope , his wife and children suffer as he starts to fall apart in a way .

The twenty tons were waiting for me on four trailers in the courtyard. They’d quickly offloaded the cheese last night to avoid paying demurrage to the railway company . That’s how I was able to witness my cheese being locked away in my safe . I stood in the middle of the cellar, like an instructor in a manege, keeping a close eye on everything until the last crate had been brought in

The large pile of cheese he has to get rid off before it goes off .

This is meant to be a comic masterpiece of comic  dutch literature . This is a novel of social-climbing Frans is a man who is wanting to climb it is similar in some ways too Wodehouse ,Frans is one of those oddly name side character from Jeeves and Wooster in a way one of those small stories that get told as an aside in the Wodehouse stories  . this is a classic man trying to better himself but with a dry look at failing at it a man who hates cheese ,drowning in cheese. I not sure it fully works when I first mentioned I was reading this a connection on twitter said they had thrown it to one side half read . I said and still hold by it that humour is hard to translate, in parts it works . I feel there is another level that maybe we miss that is some what Belgium humour , I was reminded of what Jonathan meades observations about the odd ways belgium is so different yet so close to us the quirky way they have small museums for everything and the way each street is individual in their look . Laarmans is a character that Elsschot used in his other big novel and again in his other books he wrote , he was considered to be semi biographical reflection of the man himself.

 

His name is David by Jan Vantoortelboom

His Name Is David

His name is David by Jan Vantoortelboom

Dutch fiction (Flemish)

original title – Meester Milraillette

Translator  –  Vivien  D Glass

Source – review copy

I was sent this by the dutch based publisher World editions it is their latest novel in English  by Jan Vantoortelboom is a Flemish writer born in Zeeland he still lives in rural Zeeland . he wrote his debut novel in 2011 which won three regional book prizes . This is his  second book won a booksellers book of the month and also Zeeland book of the year and is his first to be translated to English. The book was also on a dutch talk show as one of there book club reads .

The closer we got to the village tof Elverdinge-the tram had just passed the stop of brielen, the village before elverdinge-the edgier I felt. Wheat country, meadows with Islets of daisies and buttercups.Field of maize. Everything slowly drifted past me. occasionally, some boys would leap on the footboard to chug along for a bit before being chased off by the ticket collector.my belly rumbled a mixture of excitement and fear.

David on the tram to his new job is full of joy and fear for what is ahead .

His name is David is the story of a teacher in a small rural school in Flanders which he had been sent to work at by his father. This rural village is a small village that has descend into back biting and hatred . David is a sensitive soul . He wants to try to teach the children that what they see in the elders is wrong he does this by getting them involved in a play about good and evil black and white as he splits the class and shows that life is more than black and white to his pupils . But in doing so he has made enemies but he also made a friend in one of his pupils and has feeling for the boy’s mother. This is all told in flashbacks since the at the start we see David is facing a firing squad and then we also see what made david the way he was his father a handy man pushed his son ti be better but also in a way pushed him away , but that past has one event that colours his life today .

You don’t want to get off on the wrong foot , eh? You’re new to Elverdinge. you need to make friends, not enemies. I hear things about you and they aren’t all good. Don’t look so surprised. You don’t believe me ? You’ve already stepped on the toes of a number of people here. And those fellows don’t forgive and forget. No, schoolmaster. men like them are quick to take offence, and settle their scores in their own time .

david is warned to calm things down in the school as he has upset some folks already in the village

This is a book about morals and good and bad and I think maybe a very Flemish book , I read a piece about this book that mention another Flemish writer who I aim to feature at some point. Stefan Hertmans that says the great problem with world war one is it left Belgiaans questioning their own moral values after the war. This book is a perfect example of those moral issues and also the small mind world they lived in pre war . David is a catalyst for change but he is interrupted by the war that will engulf them all and leave them all change. This is a wonderful insight into a village on the verge of collapse due to it being so wound up in its own world in the verge of the great war.

The Boy by Wytske Versteeg

 

 

 

The boy by Wystke Versteeg

Dutch fiction

Original title  – Boy

Translator – Sarah Welling

Source – review copy

Well after a few days in Slovenia I  ove near home to The Netherlands and a prize-winning Dutch book. This is the second novel by Wystke versteeg  a rising star of dutch literature  .She came  to the notice of dutch readers with a non fiction book about her time working with homeless people called This is not a homeless person .. Her books have been said  to deal with the human condition like many of her fellow young dutch writers dutch writers. THis book won bng book prize in Holland.

When Kito was older, in primary school, I’d wait for him at the gate when my schedule allowed it, listening to the mothers.They all seemed to know each other very well, and they seemed born for there maternal role.Standing among them made me feel like an imposter. I tried to join in with conversation, but my voice sounded artificial even to myself.I told them how he jumped on the bed in the mornings and put his arms around me, how soft he was and how open. How he reminded me of something I’d forgotten a long time ago , how innocent he smelled

The Mum struggles with being a mother having not given birth to Kito

Well this book deals with every parents worst nightmare and that is the loss of their child . Kito an adopted Chinese child is drowned on a beach during a school trip.The son had been the glue of the family the father and mother have struggled to cope with the loss and drifted apart. The mother wants more answers so heads off after finding that the teacher whom was in charge of the trip Hannah, she has left here job and gone to leave in the back and beyond in Bulgaria so the mother sets out to meet the teacher and try to find out why Kito Killed himself. What she finds out is a side to her son she didn’t really know ? He was adopted after she her self a psychiatrist discovered she was infertile had to travel to china to find a son but she and her husband missed that Kito was a real troubled child one of those kids that is a square peg in the round hole of being at school that culminated in the tragic events as this is seen by the mother talking to Hannah her need to be their for some sort of revenge or just an answer  from  the teacher changes.As Hannah had tried to help Kito by using drama to help him

I don’t understand; I said . “What happened , what could have hurt someone your age so badly ?”

She doesn’t answer my question.When she starts talking again she sounds deep in thought like she’s forgotten I’m sitting next to her

“I was young then, I mean not like I am now but softer, stupider. I didn’t understand how things worked. I didn’t want to teach but it was what I was doing.Children need someone they can beleive in, i didn’t even beleive in myself

A glimpse at what Kito death had on Hannah seen through the mothers eyes .

this is one of those stories that seems popular at the moment a book mainly about a character and his life that is dead through out the book. A sort of autopsy of what happened rather than seeing what happened.This is a story about two things in a way adopting kids and how hard it can be for those kids , especially in Kito  case coming from another place sets him out to be a target and that is the second thread in this book how hard it is to stop kids being bullied and Kito is an extreme example , no I’m wrong there no I read about many kid like this that have taken their life due to bullies . Hannah and the mother both tried to help but neither had the full picture this is shown when the two meet and finally the piece of this sad 15 year olds life come together.I could see this making a great film at some point

 

 

The decision by Britta Böhler

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Well this was the first book I was sent this year and I always like the way books seem to interlink  with books I have read or tried to read and this one is no different. I tried to rush through Magic mountain for German lit month but decide halfway through it needed a slower reading from me, so I put to one side for this years German lit month. But I had also tried to order from my library a book that collected together letters sent between Thomas Mann the main character in this book and his fellow writer Herman Hesse, I wish the library copy had turned up as I could looked up his letters around this time.I love the way books overlap this one even overlaps with one of the earliest books on the blog. Another thread of the book is how important Mann considered his book Joseph which was being published at this time this is his longest book and also one maybe least spoke about now in his cannon.

Hesse would probably lecture him because if the Korrodi letter. He can see it now, Hesse’s thin face would be even thinner than usual, there would be reproaches and exhortations, and perhaps even more than that. Lose another friend is that worth it ?

It’s all very well for Hesse to talk. When you’re not in the middle it’s difficult to stay out of things. Hesse hasn’t lived in Germany for decades; he became a swiss citizen long before the trouble in German started.His books are also published by Bermann ; he has german readers, but doesn’t live in the fatherland and doesn’t want to return.

The relationship between Mann and Hesse is shown here when in those three days he visits Hermann.

It’s 1936 and in switzerland the writer Thomas Mann has taken the decision to write and open letter in a swiss paper denouncing the Nazi regime and the actions. What follows in the book is the three days from him writing the letter and  it’s being published. The writer Britta Bohler a well-known Dutch lawyer has filled in the gaps in the story, as Mann’s diaries of the time mention very little of the time between the letter writing and being published.Mann confronts the ghosts of his past and fear of the future.One man well Mann struggling to choose exile other bowing down.

The memory of Germany is a nostalgic remembrance, a memory of times long gone. Times that don’t return. How did Proust say it ? “The really that I knew no longer existed.” No, he doesn’t want to be able to return to present-day Germany. He wants his fatherland to become again the country it once was. His homesickness is pain in time, not in space, and staying in Germany would not have changed that. He switches on the reading light and looks at the clock. He still has enough time to stretch his legs for half and hour before the evening meal; the radio broadcast can’t wait until after dinner.

I loved this passage as it sums up Mann’s thoughts in the book a struggle with Germany’s so to speak.

 

Mann wonders the knock on effect of the letter his publisher is Jewish and may be in trouble more because of the letter. He ponders what it is to be German, The thought of being German and not in Germany in fact against the German regime. He see how other people have dealt with the Nazis. The way Wagner has been embraced by the Nazis. we see Mann as not the bold writer we know but as a man on the edge, having to make The decision. I was reminded of one of the earlier books I read on the blog. Brecht at night  by Mati Unt which followed a fellow German writer Bertolt Brecht as he escaped the German regime. in his case via Finland to The US .In the book Britta has brought a time the Mann his self wrote very little about and filled three days in his life into a novel that shows the greater struggle between good and evil.As The open Letter from Thomas Mann to Korrodi about Germany and Exile writers is due to be published in feb 3 edition of the NZZ newspaper in Switzerland. A move that sees Mann become and exile himself.

Dutch literature

Original title – De besilissing

Translator – Jeannette K Ringold

 

 

You have me to love by Jaap Robben

Jaap robben

Well the first review of 2016 is one of the last books I read in 2015  Jaap robben first adult novel, he is well-known in Holland for his children’s poems and short stories. There is a video of Jaap talking in English about this book that his uk publishers World editions made, where he talks about what inspired the story. It was two events the first was a story of a father drowning after saving his son from drowning, the son come ashore they turn back only to find the father had now drowned after passing his son to help that appeared. The second is when Jaap was helping at an old people’s home and an old lady said what nice legs he had he said thank and again she said “you’ve lovely legs ” and have you a girlfriend. These two pieces made  the kernel that became the book  you have me to love .

I tried to shine the torch in the direction she was looking. Any second now, Dad would surface, coughing and choking, and here she was, ready to grab hold of him and haul him up onto the beach. Any second now. He would emerge from the water. He had to. Especially now that mum was here. We’d see his head above the waves, like a football floating towards us.” look ! look 0ver there ,” I’d shout, jumping onto mum’s back and catching him in the torch-light .

I was reminded in part with this passage of the Stevie smith poem drowning not waving .

Anyway into the book the book is set on a remote Scottish Island and follows the vents during and after a drowning of a man the man is father to Mikael, he is nine years old and watched his father just disappear in the sea as he tried to get hold of Mikael’s ball. Then there is the widow Dora that is left behind. Also on the island is Karl a fisherman unmarried and Augusta although dead plays a part in this story as Karl had a fling with her then there is the crew of the ship that takes everyone back to the mainland. The story is set in the weeks after the drowning happened when Dora and Mikael struggle with the guilt and also the added isolation this brings them. The second part of the book brings you back to the island a number of years later Karl has moved closer to Dora and Mikael has nearly grown into a man and looks very like his father at the same age.

It’s a little gull. Legs folded. Bones as thin as twigs, barely held together by a film of skin. Both his eyes are missing his skull is an empty walnut shell. His body creaks as I pick him up by the tips of his wings and spread them. Empty. A hollow cage of ribs. it’s as if he shrunk away to nothing so he can ft back into his egg.

It’s my fault. His mother has pecked him to death, and it’s my fault I should have never locked them up.

This one scene maybe echoes Dora’s and Mikael relationship after the father has gone in their isolation.

I leave it there it isn’t hard to put together what might happen later in the book, the video of  Jaap talking about the book reminded me of a scene in a film Smoke where one of the character recounts a story of a father lost in the artic who is found as he was in ice and seen by his son who is now the same age as the father when he died. Well the later part of this book is the mother looking at the son and seeing an echo of his late father. There is another horrific scene where is there is a mother and child Gull that Mikael has in his room were the mother gull kills the baby chick. The beauty of the book is setting it on a small isolated island means the grief and recovery from the grief is twist by the sheer isolation of the place. The book won the Dutch bookseller prize and is currently being made into a film. This was also my favourite cover of last year.

Dutch fiction

Original title – Birk

Translator – David Doherty

 

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