Dutch literature is having its day, so I’m beginning 2020 with a heavy focus on translation and a list of books written by Dutch authors. At the end of last year I visited Amsterdam and remembered something I used to do when I travelled a lot for work: wherever I went, I made sure to read a book by an author from that country. Sometimes this was challenging (like when I went to Tajikistan) but it gave me my first real appreciation of literature in translation and was a fantastic way to introduce me to aspects of the country I might not have noticed otherwise. Reading a contemporary Chinese crime novel in Shanghai, for example, made me look at the culture surrounding me through different eyes.
I failed to read a Dutch book when I was in Amsterdam, but I’m making up for it now with a list of four. Technically only three of them were written in Dutch originally, but Bart van Es, the author of The Cut Out Girl, this month’s non-fiction pick, is Dutch despite writing in English, and the book is intrinsically linked to the history of the Netherlands.
This is only a small sample of the Dutch writing out there, and thanks to the New Dutch Writing campaign of 2019–20 there are plenty more authors and books to be discovered. I’m going to try to pick up a few more throughout the year, but for this month I have chosen the following four:
The Evenings by Gerard Reve, translated by Sam Garrett (Pushkin Press)
What the publisher says: ‘Darkly funny and mesmerising, The Evenings takes the tiny, quotidian triumphs and heartbreaks of our everyday lives and turns them into a work of brilliant wit and profound beauty.’
The Cut Out Girl by Bart van Es (Penguin)
What the publisher says: ‘His account […] is a searing exploration of two lives and two families. It is a story about love and misunderstanding and about the ways that our most painful experiences – so crucial in defining us – can also be redefined.’
Bird Cottage by Eva Meijer, translated by Antoinette Fawcett (Pushkin Press)
What the publisher says: ‘This moving novel imagines the story of [a] remarkable woman’s decision to defy society’s expectations, and the joy she drew from her extraordinary relationship with the natural world.’
Sleepless Night by Margriet de Moor, translated by David Doherty (New Vessel Press)
What the publisher says: ‘Margriet de Moor, master storyteller and one of Europe’s foremost novelists, recounts a gripping love story about endings and demise, rage and jealousy, knowledge and ambiguity – and the possibility of a fresh start.’