Ventoux by Bert Wagendorp


Ventoux by Bert Wagendorp

Dutch fiction

Original title – Ventoux

Translator – Paul Vincent

Source – review copy


L’enfer du Nord: Paris – Roubaix
La Cote d’Azur et Saint Tropez
Les Alpes et les Pyrennees
Derniere etape Champs-Elysees
Galibier et Tourmalet
En danseuse jusqu’au sommet
Pedaler en grand braquet
Sprint final a l’arrivee
Crevaison sur les paves
Le velo vite repare
Le peloton est regroupe
Camarades et amitie


Well what is a better choice than kraftwerks Tour de France , this band like the writer of this book are huge cycling fans .

Now Bert Wagendorp is a journalist that has worked on a number of cycling magazines and reported on cycling . He has also been the London Correspondent for the Dutch newspaper “De Volksrant ” .This book sold over a 100000 copies in Holland .The book has been made into a film in holland .Now today seems the best day for this book , I have saved it til the Tour de france was on and tomorrow the Tour starts to head uphill so to speak as the first mountain stages of this years tour . All this for the non cycling fans among you is the title of this book is among the most famous finishes for a stage in the Tour de France Miont Ventoux is a bare piece of rock with a road that goes up it .

In 1970 Eddy Merckx won his second tour de france . I was six , watching TV with my father  , and saw Merckx , the cycling marvel . “The cannibal ,” said my father . “So young and already so good . He’s going to sweep the board .No one can compete with him .

bart remember his first tour with one of its great champions winning it .

Ventoux follows two journeys up Mont Ventoux the first by six friends Five boys and a single girl in the summer of 1982 . This is the time of the great Dutch cyclist Joop Zoetemelk , the man who always seem to finish second in the tour . So as the six friends start by setting up camp then three of them set off up the huge mountain . But as they start to descend the mountain one of the three men a young poet and the most handsome of the group falls off the road and dies in an accident .Now thirty later Bart a man whose marriage has fallen apart , with his teen daughter has gathered the group of friends together to once again try to cycle the mountain but mainly to finally grasp what happened in the summer of 1982 . Laura the girl they were all in love with , David who Bart kept in touch with as the plans the trip , he starts to track the other two friends  down .The book is about how friendships can split and what happens if that summer like the one in 1982 , when you are on the verge of becoming men goes wrong where does that lead onto . One friend is on drugs charges .

Peter had something serene about him .He did not seem to belong in a floating brothel , which come to that applied to his father and mother too . They were more like an extravagant gallery-owning couple ,specialising in Russian art

Peter the poet and most attractive in the group had a history behind him .

Cycling is a metaphor in this book the climb is like that climb to adulthood , but there is a lot of mention of Raleigh and that team at this time was one of the dominate force of cycling and a Dutch review of this book shows me that the team had one 9 of 11 team time trials over this time in the tour .Like a team trial where the team does best with all the riders the loss of peter lead this team to crack and loose themselves to now find themselves together again a little larger and with a lot more baggage than first time . It’s a book about lost friends and lost friendships .A book for all those summers we had camping and luckily none of this happened to me . I loved the references to cycling and music at the time . This was just the time I first maybe knew of the tour Joop and his era were huge names . The dutch are great fans with the famous orange corner on the other grand old climb of the Tour Alp’d’Huez .

Letters to Poseidon by Cees Nooteboom



Letters to Poseidon by Cees Nooteboom

Dutch non fiction

Original title -Brieven aan Posiedon

Translator – Laura Watkinson

Source review copy

The hollow light is still on the fields
Where the winter has warmed
And the snows have drained away

And the hunter’s cry is still on the air
As the bullet flies home
And the heart that’s pierced with it

Still is racing
Still is racing all alone

The silver shoals of the light in the deep
Brush the glittering skin
Where the great, dark body writhes

And the trembling jaw
The unfathoming sounds of leviathan, bound
As his heart, though weakening

I choose Leviathon bound by Shearwater as my lyric for the book as it comes from an album that combines sea, birds  and myth in the songs source 

Cees Nooteboom is a  name often mentioned on this blog , I have interviewed him a number of years ago  and also the translator of this book  Laura watkinson .Well I have also  reviewed Cees books twice before in fact, so this is the third thread of his writing I’ll be reviewing as i have previously reviewed the novel In the dutch mountains  and the short story collection The foxes come at night  .So now I move onto a travel book of his , that is more than a travel book it is really a musing on life , art , history and the world we live in .

You are a god , and I am a man .That is however one looks at it , the state of affairs .But perhaps I might be permitted to ask you something  I have always wanted to know. What is a human being to the gods ? Do you despise us for being mortal ? or is the opposite the case ? Are you jealous because we are allowed to die ? Because your fate is , of course , immortality , even though we have no idea where you are now .

From Poseidon II , of course we never know the answer but we have to ask !

Letters to Poseidon is one of  those books that is very hard to pigeonhole as it is a collection of letters that Cees has written every year to a muse that of Poseidon (Greek god of the sea ) to protect his Menorcian home every time he leaves these are 23 slices of musings from the great Dutch writer  that are divided into a sections .A lot of the musings start from a conversation that he has with Poseidon that is about how the god has been viewed and represented in history .Also musings on items , events even nature .This is one of those books that is hard to describe as a whole as it is a mosaic of pieces rather like one of those photo mosaics with Poseidon being the big picture but lots little pictures on every subject under the sun making this picture up  .

At around midnight , here in a Germanic winter on the edge of the alps , I see him again , Orion , the blind hunter , the moon man of the mountains , Poseidon’s son , the most beautiful man there ever was , lured into the bed by the insatiable Eos , the drawn , who was tormented by unflagging lust as a punishment when Aphrodite caught her in bed with Ares , the god or war .I know Orion from winter nights in Amsterdam , when I see his shape above one of the canals .

from a piece called Orion , I know Orion as well he is one of the few constellations I can remember in the nights sky so have also seen him many a night as well .

Now I’ve been vague about the book and I don’t know why it isn’t a vague book , list a dam hard one to pass over its sheer brilliance fully .The nearest to it would be Sebalds work it has same feel of a mind at work musings become digression become little stories or thoughts even a mix of pictures like Sebald had .Leopardi would another writer that this book has reminded me of is Zibaldone by  Leopardi Nooteboom is exploring ideas the idea of sea and the nature of Poseidon , rather the same way Leopardi constantly muses of the way language evolved , Nooteboom exams how even now we view the god of the sea .Now this book yet again shows me Stu why I always highlight Cees Nooteboom as a potential Nobel winner as he has such vast skill , I really need to try his poetry next I think or hope his first novel which he mentioned in the interview as one to read published .I’m just sorry it took me a few months to review this book as it is one I feel most readers of this blog will get something from .

Have you read Cees Nooteboom ?

Gliding flight by Anne – Gine Goemans



Gliding flight by Anne-Gine Goemans

Dutch fiction

Original title – Glijvlucht

Translator – Nancy Forest Filler

Source – review copy

“Growin’ Up”

I stood stone-like at midnight, suspended in my masquerade
I combed my hair till it was just right and commanded the night brigade
I was open to pain and crossed by the rain and I walked on a crooked crutch
I strolled all alone through a fallout zone and come out with my soul untouched
I hid in the clouded wrath of the crowd, but when they said, “Sit down,” I stood up
Ooh… growin’ up
I choose Bruce Springsteen growing up of his Debut album , like Gieles has to in this book .

Well its always exciting when a new publisher of books in translation appears , what make World editions special is they aren’t new , just new to the uk as it is a new arm of the Dutch publisher De Geus .They had published this book a few years ago in Holland it won a prize for Youth literature , and is her second book to come out in dutch and her first to be translated to English .

I am like you training my geese for a project .I cannot run into details .It is secret and surprise for my mother .Like your rescue flying  , my project is also an action of rescue .As I already wrote , my geese do not excel in listening .They behave stupid sometimes .

Gieles writing to his hero Christian Moullec about trying to train his geese .

Now I have to admit I pick this first of the books from the launch of World editions as it appeal least to me and I am always one that believes in a challenge and it was also the longest of the launch books so .From the cover above you get a number of clues as to the nature of this book .The book follows a fourteen year old boy Gieles , now he lives next to a runway , in what is called a spotters camp .There is just him and his father , his fathers job is to keep the runway clear of Geese .But they also keep two geese themselves at home , which is Gieles dream to make them fly like one of the two heroes he has Christian Moullec the renowned french ornithologist , how has written books about using gliders to teach geese to fly (a similar idea and story inspired the film fly away home a few years ago ) .Add to this his mother is chasing saving the world in Africa , a best friend called Super Waling , whom is a historian and journalist , also like Gieles has his own problems .Also there is Gieles other hero Captain Scully , another link to geese he was the pilot that managed to land a plane in the Hudson river a number of years ago , after the plane got damaged after a goose flew into the engine .

Late the next morning Gieles was awakened by an inspiration .He was going to make  sacrifices .Tony’s mother might die of cancer , and his own mother might die of Africa , so it was time he sacrificed something , too .He looked around his room .The gosling was drinking water from a dish .He loved that little thing .She was way more than he could sacrifice , not on your life

Gieles reminds me of Adrian mole at times in the way he speaks .

Twisted is what I would call this book , many threads but also mainly linking ideas in a way .For me the main idea is loss and travel  Gieles has lost his mother but still yearns to be free of where he is ! Super Waling is an interesting character a fat chap that has lived around the town , but has seen history pass him by and strangely enough been in a plane crash .Gieles desire to fly the geese is another strong thread , the birds themselves seem to maybe symbolize the boy themselves , his two birds can’t fly , but could if shown how by Gieles , but also Gieles can’t fly and can’t help them with out the help of a hero ! I imagine for a teenage reader this is great stuff , even I admit it I got drawn in partly as it wasn’t to a dutch friend point out mid way through the book it was actually a YA novel in some ways .I do question that but I had same questioning with Mark Haddon’s book the curious incident in the night-time , in some ways that is the book I was reminded of Gieles is maybe seeing the world as a teen would but also has unusual loves and heroes for a boy his age rather like Christopher in the curious incident .. ., also Adrian mole that twisted teenage take on the world we all have has been caught so well here .We all had drives and dreams like Gieles but did we go as far as he does !

Have you read this book or any good YA in translation ?


The portrait by Willem Jan Otten


The portrait by Willem Jan Otten

Dutch Fiction 

Original title – Specht en zoon

Translator – David Colmer 

Source – review copy 


I think images are worth repeating
Images repeated from a painting
Images taken from a painting
From a photo worth re-seeing
I love images worth repeating, project them upon the ceiling
Multiply them with silk screening
See them with a different feeling

Images by Lou Reed and John Cale from their album Songs for Drella about Andy Warhol

When I was asked to review this award-winning Dutch book from scribe ,I was pleased as Scribe the Australian publisher has not long moved into the uk market and has over last few years found some gems in translation ,like David Vogel ,whose books have been on my radar for a while .So The portrait or in its Dutch title Specht and son ,is the fourth novel by Willem Jan Otten ,he is also a well-known poet , playwright and essayist in his native Holland ,he has won a number of awards including two for this book ,the most prestigious being the Libris literature prize a Dutch language prize whose previous winners include Harry Mulisch ,Hugo Claus and JJ Voskull .

I admit to remembering virtually nothing of the moment I was finally brought .It was a nondescript man ,smallish ,in a dark-blue army-disposials coat and paint splashed shoes .He had wide ,avid eyes but I didn’t really see them wile the transaction was taking place .

The canvas is brought and taking tom wait at the studio .

So the portrait ,is an unusual book as the narrator of this book is a canvas , we see the story unfold from its point of view  .The book starts at the end as a man walks in the snow  towards a fire   ,then we go back in time and this canvas is waiting for what it calls the creator to use it  .The creator is an up and coming young painter known for his realistic paintings of people .He has been hired by Specht who is a rich and powerful man who could help the creator become better known  he has asked the creator  to make a photo of his late son into a painting like his other painting and breath life into it , to save  his  own life  .So as the creator starts to cover the canvas we start to find out who is being painted on him ,is it Specht’s son or something more sinster  what is their relationship ? What happened to this young boy ? Who is Specht why was he in such a rush for the painter to create this painting for him ?

Specht had sat down again .

I actually only have one question , he said

His voice ,which had been very quiet the whole time had become virtually inaudible .

Do you also work from death ?

Specht ask the creator does he paint from death and the canvas gets its chance to come to life .

Now this is one of those books that just goes at a pace when you start reading it ,at points I had to keep saying to myself this is just a canvas as the narrator as it’s  jumps of the page ,we see its waiting as the creator ,choose other canvases before it  until the big job he has been destined to be used for comes in .The book has a slightly Moral feel to it almost as thou the story of Specht’s  son is a wider story of lost children everywhere .I read in a Dutch interview I translated online that Otten has convert to Catholicism with his wife in the 90’s and this book was picked as an example of literature reflecting Christian  values and morals  the ClO 15 list ,which also features a book ny his wife Yvone van der Meer  the list shows the literary merit Christian literature can have .Know I can see you shaking your head and I am not a big fan of overtly Christian books ,I can say this isn’t you can read into it that it is but also just read it as a story of a painting being made and the young bo is in the painting a journey through a life of a canvas  and it’s subject .Also another readable and faultless translation by David Colmer  .Have you a favourite book about artist and paintings ?

In the Dutch Mountains by Cees Nooteboom

in the dutch mountains

In the Dutch Mountains by Cees Nooteboom

Dutch fiction

Translator –  Adriene Dixon

Original title In Nederland

Source review Copy

Well I’ve cover his short stories before now and Also have an Interview with Cees Noooteboom  here on the blog ,he is the best known living Dutch writer and someone frequently mention for a Nobel Literature prize .This book is a reissue of his   1984 Novel and this one book is probably the  most perfect piece of writing I have ever read ,but also shows the Plaudits given to Nooteboom are due .This is one of two books Maclehose have reissued the other being Rituals which I hope to read soon .I would also suggest reading the Intro by Alberto Manguel .

I am a foreigner ,but I still remember it all ,and I don’t intend to keep quiet about it .My name is Alfonso Tiburon de Mnedoza .I am inspector of roads in the province of Zaragoza ,part of the ancient kingdom of Aragon ,in spain .In my spare time I write book .As a student I spent some years in Delft on a scholarship to study road and bridge building ,and I might as well say at once that the nortern Netherlands have always inspired me with fear ,a Fear that demands a capital letter .

He was touch by his time in Holland .

In the Dutch mountain is The story of a writer retelling a classic fairy tale with a new setting .The writer is a Spaniard Alfonso Tiburon de Mendoza ,he works in the Zaragoza region of spain as a road inspector ,he is a failed man ,he has been writing ,but has never sold many copies of his book but every week he goes to a schoolroom and sits behind a kids desks and writes ,the story we join him on  his   retelling of the Hans Christian Anderson story the Snow Queen ,he has alter the name of the two main child characters too Kai and Luicia they are circus kids  the setting is now in Holland  the mountains of Southern Holland  , where Alfonso  spent some time years ago ,as we follow the story we also follow a bit of Alfonso life as we see the kids revisit  the fairy tale of  the snow queen as through the eyes of Alfonso .

Camino ,carretera, way ,street,road .It has always intrigued me that in Dutch the word weg ,way also means absent .In Spanish el camino is not only the road but also Journey .

I love how words can have dual means elsewhere myself .

This is what reading books in translation is about for me discovery and different approaches , I ve read books before about writers ,and them taking part in the writing process .But none have touched the mark as well as this one did  he really caught the whole process .Alfonso is the perfect embodiment of the failed writer, he has it all in his head but seems to have failed over time  in conveying it in what he writes ,through him we see how he is using a classic tale to try to spark his own writing but also use his own life to add to the fairy tale .A short book 150 pages it seems much longer (a cliché I know but its hard to say anything else its a real gem ) .I have books I know will stick with me for the rest of my life after I have read them for example rings of Saturn by W G  Sebald or Wonder by Hugo Claus , Now I ll be adding this book to that list .Nooteboom also tackles what a fairy tale is a Alfonso takes apart a classic tale and rebuilds it in his own version we get an insight into what makes a great fairy tale and that is the parts of it not the story more what the story in its parts tell you .

Have you read this book ?

What was the last book you read that you knew was going to stick with you ?

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