Earlier in the year I upgraded my library card to the ‘Sterpas’ (Star pass) and decided to start reading more Dutch fiction. The upgrade wasn’t required but I do like keeping a book for four weeks instead of three. I am pleased to say I have read 2,468 pages since the beginning of the year, at a rate of around 13 and a half pages per day. I tend to prefer psychological novels (at least in Dutch). For this type the emphasis is on inner thought and reflection rather than on outward dialogue (Wikipedia: Dutch | English).
Here are the books I read in the first six months of the year, in order:
Vonne van der Meer, De avondboot – 302 pages. It’s actually book two of the Eilandgasten trilogy.
Vonne van der Meer, Laatste seizoen – 192 pages. This is book three of the Eilandgasten trilogy (I’ve linked to the entire work above). I don’t believe it’s been translated into English — only into German, unfortunately.
Robbert Welagen – Het verdwijnen van Robbert, 160 pages. A pretty intriguing read – a man decides one day to get up and leave his old life, without warning. The title translates to “The disappearance of Robbert”.
Robbert Welagen – Lipari / Phillippes middagen – 159 pages. Two novellas – in the first the main character is on an island vacation watching time go past and not much else. He meets a couple who is similarly lounging around as the days melt by. In the second novella, the main character briefly meets his father for the first time when he is 15, and then meets his father’s wife 12 years later. Lipari is the name of the island while Phillippes middagen translates to “Phillippe’s afternoons”.
Robbert Welagen – Verre vrienden, 220 pages. As a teenager the main character had a female friend who took on the voluntary role of art teacher for him and the neighborhood kids. They even took a field trip to Paris to visit the Louvre. Years later he meets her again, but she winds up dead within a few weeks. The novel begins with her death as he reminisces about the past. The title translates to “Distant friends”.
Robbert Welagen – Porta Romana, 156 pages. A man is kidnapped and wakes up in the hospital with most of his memories gone. Trying to answer the question of who he is, he takes time off from work and visits his childhood homes of Florence and Rome. But all the while he has the feeling that he is being watched. In regards to the title – Porta Romana is the name of one of the places he visits.
Vonne van der Meer – De vrouw met de sleutel, 218 pages. An almost unbelievable story – after the death of her husband, a woman places an ad in the newspaper as a “reader” – someone who reads to you to help you fall asleep. But it is hard not to be pulled into the lives of your clients. A few of the stories she reads are included. The title translates to “The woman with the key” as she had a key to every client’s home to let herself in (so that the client’s could already be in bed and waiting).
Jorie Horsthuis – Op de tram, 251 pages. The only book in the bunch which was not a psychological novel. The book follows a year in the life of a woman who became a conductor for the GVB (the Amsterdam tram lines) – a conductor is not the driver, but rather someone who rides along and sells/inspects tickets. It was especially interesting because the time period that was covered included the year that the Netherlands switched from the strippenkaart (a card that you manually stamp) to the OV-chipkaart (a card that you place before a reader so that it is electronically read). You either hated or loved the strippenkaart. Luckily I had a chance to use it a few times while here on vacation. The title of the book translates to “In the tram”.
Karen Thompson Walker – Wij waren hier, 254 pages. Imagine an Earth that begins to slow down. First you have days that last 26 hours, then 30, then 40 … until in the end a day lasts more than 72 hours. The main character is a female teenager who describes what it was like (and what it was like to fall in love in the middle of it). The title translates to “We were here”, and the book itself is a translation of an English novel “The age of miracles“.
Willem Bosch – Op zwart, 176 pages. A similar story to the one above. In this case the Earth has completely stopped spinning – with Europre on the side of darkness. Think problems like scurvy since there is no longer enough vitamin C. What made it interesting was that it is written by a Dutch writer so the focal point is the Netherlands. The main character is trying to get to Rotterdam to board a ship to reach America, which is in perpetual sunlight. The title is similar to when your TV no longer works and it goes completely black.
Haruki Murakami – De kleurloze Tsukuru Tazaki en zijn pelgrimsjaren, 363 pages. This Japanese author can be at times a very interesting read – he has written some rather abstract or strange novels. This was originally a recommendation from a friend many years ago, but this was the first novel of his I’ve read in Dutch. It is about a man in his mid 30s who reminisces about the past and the close friendships he has as a teenager. Until one day he was completely cut off from the group for good and without explanation. Years later, he realizes the pain of this is holding him back and seeks out his long lost friends. The title is “The colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his pilgrim years”.
I am currently reading another short book by Murakami (Slaap or “Sleep”) with another two books on the list once this one is done. It’s only 90 pages or so, so it should be pretty quick…