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

 

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 ?

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