Oude en nieuwe buitelingen

By Godfried Bomans

The contents of this volume in Elsevier’s attempt at the collected works of Godfried Bomans reflect most accurately the kind of work Bomans is second best remembered for, after Eric. Fairly long, whimsical pieces of prose.

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Author:

    Godfried Bomans

  • Title: Oude en nieuwe buitelingen
  • Pages: 174
  • Published: 1972 (1970; Buitelingen 1948, Nieuwe Buitelingen 1955)
  • Publisher: Elsevier
  • ISBN: 90-10-00125-3

The pieces are ordered as follows:

  • Vier verhalen (four stories
  • Satyren (Satirical Satyrs)
  • Psychologische verkenningen (Psychological investigations)
  • Onzin (Nonsense)
  • Petite Histoire
  • Lichamelijke oefeningen (P.E.)

Bomans was at his best when he was writing whimsical little anecdotes (although… not that little — he took his time) about general subjects. Sometimes, as with the report of Verlaine’s visit to the Netherlands, it’s very hard to separate sense and nonsense, to discriminate between what’s true, and what originated in Bomans’ lively imagination.

On the other hand, where he describes his prowess as a chess grandmaster, or Arie Rekelbast, the famous soccer champion of the Haarlemmer soccer club De Spaarneboys, it’s very clear what one should believe, even fifty years later.

Bomans practices a form of wit, of whimsy that is far superior to anything that might be called wacky, zany or hilarious. His Dutch is cultured, in of a certain Roman-Catholic type that is typical for some authors from his, like Havank.

I still want his complete complete work…

Balladen en andere gedichten — het gebroken hart

By J.W.F. Werumeus Buning

I may very well be the last Dutchman to actually enjoy Werumeus Buning’s literary output, but it’s still not easy to find his books in the second-hand bookshops. This little paperback Irina found for me in Haarlem. It’s a combination of some poems I already had in his collected works,
and a very sentimental, but also funny and pleasant little novelette which I read with a lot of pleasure.

The illustrations are by J.F. Doeve, who also illustrated other books by Werumeus Buning, and who is eminently collectible. That’ll account for the rarity of a new find… Werumeus Buning is these days best know for his recipe books and his writing about wine, if people know about him at all…

Don Camillo

Giovannino Guareschi

My parents had three Don Camillo books — a little surprising, because they were both from a rather anti-papist Dutch Reformed church family, even if they were both Church-leavers, and the Don Camillo books are very Roman-Catholic — and as a teenager I devoured them.

Given the rather rustic depiction of Roman Catholicism, it’s perhaps reason for a slight blush of shame to admit that my own religiosity has been partly, or maybe even significantly, formed by the stories in De Kleine Wereld, Zijn Kudde and Zijn zwarte Schapen
— later I added Basta!, …En toen zei Don Camillo… and In Rusland. I’ve never seen the movies, but the Dutch editions have wonderful pen-and-ink illustrations by Karel Thole (I should scan them, but I’d need to buy a new scanner first, the illustrations are better than anything you can find on Google.).

Anyway, on the occasion of my father cleaning out his library, I got charge of the volumes on his shelves, and I already had the rest myself. I started re-reading them. They withstood the test of the time. I nowadays see that they are far stronger anti-communist propaganda than I ever through before — when I read them they had a cartoon-like quality for me with some added moralizing (which I don’t consider a swear-word). The oldest stories are the best, and Basta is really weak — it’s translated into English as Don Camillo Meets the Flower Children — and nomen est omen.

I still feel they give me a convincing impression of Italian post-war life — and the stories are still witty in a mild, not outrageous way. Not every story has a happy ending, but most have. And I still like the Christ-on-the-Cross who most often tells Don Camillo to think for himself and keeps mum when he want Don Camillo to figure something out. As Naomi told me, “Jesus isn’t at all helpful! He never says anything direct! Why doesn’t he just tell Don Camillo what to do?”

Which occasioned a spirited discussion on free will… In any case, at ten years old, she is probably the right age to start reading them, and in fact, she’s devoured two of the books already.

Lord John and the Private Matter

By Diana Gabaldon

I quite like an historical novel now and then. I particularly enjoyed Fingersmith by Sarah Waters, for instance. But LJatPM is probably not a historical novel as I know it but part of one particular sub-genre of the genre: the researched-to-death-no-need-for-a-plot historical novel.

The author boasts about her research in the preface, and for all I know she did her job, but what she managed to produce did not seem more accurate to me than Pendragon — Late of Prince Albert’s Own. There is next to no story; the writing is turgid and inelegant.q

The author also boasts that she has written a short book, this time. One would think that false modesty at 474 pages, but the letterpress is of a size that would not be out of places for a pre-school book, so it probably is quite short.

Which would have been a mercy had I felt compelled to actually finish it, but I didn’t feel compelled, and didn’t finish it. I understand the author is quite popular; perhaps she does a better job when she isn’t constrained by lack of space — but on the other hand, she might just as well be another Robert Jordan.

The Screwtape Letters

By C.S. Lewis

The Screwtape Letters is one of those little masterworks of accessible theology that has done so much to foster prejudice against Lewis and his entire circle with the militant anti-church crowd that makes up the majority of the society where I live. Theology is bad
enough, but acceptable if it stays stodgy and unreadable. Accessible theology, theology with a dash of humour and a sense of fun — that is actively dangerous.

However, I find these letters as fresh and illuminating as I imagine they when they were first released to the public. As far as I am concerned, they have not aged at all. I’m not qualified to determine whether there’s much specifically Anglican about the theology behind the book, except for the allusions to the purgatory, which is a Roman invention not accepted by the Orthodox Church.

And there’s much to learn even when you don’t want to accept the central message of the book, because the peripheral teachings about what it takes to lead a good life are, I image, universally applicable.

One example is that it often happens that people forego what are to them real pleasures that bring them real joy for pastimes that somehow seem more important, more refined, civilized, cultured, socially acceptable — and then, one day, one finds oneself longing to, e.g., pick up a pencil and never doing it, never doing that quick sketch one has promised to allow oneself for six months because more important things always took precedence. Things that may very well feel hollow even expending time on it.

So I made a sketch after a work by Rogier van der Weijden, and tried to capture my rapidly growing eldest daughter. Can’t show the results yet, because I don’t have a scanner anymore, but hey, I didn’t do the sketches for publication, just for the pleasure of doing them.

Meine freie deutsche Jugend

By Claudia Rusch

The Dutch newspaper Trouw had already reviewed this book before we went on holiday to Thuringia, which used to be GDR. They were enthusiastic, so when we saw the book in a shop window in Steinbach-Hallenberg, we resolved to buy the book. (Turns out it was cheaper in the bookshop, that it is at Amazon.de.)

  • Title: Meine freie deutsche Jugend
  • Author: Claudia Rusch
  • Pages: 157
  • Date: 2003
  • Publisher: S. Fischer

I’m happy to say that three years of high-school German is perfectly adequate for reading Meine Freie Deutsche Jugend. I couldn’t undertake to write this review in German, and I don’t think I could have done so twenty years ago, when I was in the middle of said three years. But it was a surprisingly smooth read, much easier than Erich Kästner’s Der Zauberlehrling, which wasn’t beyond me, either.

And I’m even happier to say that this was a pretty good read all round. In short, laconic sketches, Claudia Rusch tells us about her youth in the GDR. Sometimes the sketches seem too detached, too laconic, almost as if she’s somehow longing for those days. And then she tells us, in the same tone of voice, about her grandfather who was killed in a Stasi dungeon and about the night she walked, a small child of seven, to the bus-stop where her grandmother was waiting for her. She was being followed by her mother, for the nights were dangerous and dark; her mother was being followed by two Stasi agents in a car, for her mother was a certified dissident. The detachment is in itself telling.

In one story, she loses her detachment, and that’s when she tells us how her mother, after the Wende, discovers that her best friend had been an informer, all the time, not even because she was forced to inform, but because ‘they asked me, and I said yes. I thought I’d do it.’. It should have been a relief, because they suspected Claudia’s grandmother, but it’s nothing of the kind.

A detached description of what life’s like in a surveillance state is all the more welcome, now that the European Union is following the United States down the path of becoming a surveillance state: soon your visit to this website will be logged, archived and analyzed by the latest addition to the Netherland’s quiver of secret services. Let’s learn from this book.

Pendragon — Late of Prince Albert’s Own

By Robert Trevelyan

This book — the first a moderately long series — is really, really weird. It’s the last gasp of a long-dead genre, the swashbuckling, China-men ridden adventure story of which Oppenheim was the last great representative. This book was first published in 1975, and apart from some token nods towards modern times (the cousin of the hero is leaning towards emancipation, that is, taking a boyfriend without intention of marriage), it’s as if you’re reading something written a hundred years ago…

  • Author: Robert Trevelyan
  • Title: Pendragon, Late of Prince Albert’s Own
  • Pages: 191
  • Published: 1975
  • Publisher: Corgi

Not that it didn’t grab my attention, the third time I picked up the book (bought for 25 cents…), and was tired enough to keep it picked up, instead of swapping it for something else, but my goodness. There’s a wild, giant Russian mastermind. There are triads. Chinamen to be chopped up by honest British sabers. A plucky street urchin. A loyal sergeant. A beautiful lady. A secret assignment. A code letter even more ineptly composed than the one in Have His Carcase. And nowhere even a hint of some auctorial conciousness about the passé-ness of what he’s doing…

Kliekjes

By Joep Habets

Just a quick notice, because I’ve still got three books by DLS to write about and a Wodehouse, and because this was a book I finished in under an hour.

  • Author: Joep Habets
  • Title: Kliekjes
  • Pages: 175
  • Published: 2002
  • Publisher: Contact

This book collects columns first written for publication in  the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad. Joep Habets writes about food, and around food, in an easy, engaging way. Sometimes witty, sometimes a little smarmy, if smarmy means what I think it means, but mostly with a love for his subject.

The last little column is perhaps the weakest, for Joep Habets shows himself to be like the people who never read a book because they had to read books for school; he became an atheist because some, apparently not very clever or well educated, people from a church choir made a bloomer in their choice of songs for a so-called beat-mass.

Now I do think, of course, that the very idea of a beat-mass is, well, a Bad Thing, let alone the implementation of that idea in real life, but someone who lets himself be thrown out of his religious beliefs because of that is perhaps, just like the non-readers I talked about above, someone copping out, diverting the blame from their own responsibility.

Still, the column about bread and cheese was particularly nice. And there were many
like those.

Kikkertje lief

By Aagje Luijtsen (collected by Perry Moree)

Kikkertje Lief (dear froglet) was the favourite pet-name of Aagje Luijtsen for her husband, Harmanus Kikkert, first mate on a VOC ship in the 18th century. Perry Moree found her letters to her husband in an archive in Great Britain. The letters had been captured with the ship Kikkert was sailing on by the British, and the British had the custom of archiving all papers found on such a ship.

It has often been said that before the twentieth century, real love like we know it between wife and husband or parent and children didn’t exist; that people were so used to death and loss that they took care never to grow any real affection for each other. This is, as proven by the very dear and very sweet letters in this book, complete nonsense.

There are nineteen letters in this book, written with love and a sense of self-deprecation. There’s one extra letter, written by Aagje and Harmanus’ son — all letter O’s, as his proud mother writes. The letters end with the much mourned death of their son.

Harmanus returned safely from his travels, and lived for some time happily together with his wife, until she died of breast cancer at far too young an age.

The book is very well produced, with illustrations, a thorough introduction, a nice, strong binding, and even an insert with a song text from a letter Aagje wrote in 1777 with music. The spelling and interpunction of the letters have not been modernized, but it’s easy enough to read, often saying a word aloud in Aagjes spelling will make you realize what the modern form is, and also the sensibility of her spelling conventions.

Herinneringen aan Godfried Bomans

By Godfried Bomans

Not really a book by Godfried Bomans, but rather a collection of memories jotted down by his family and friends after his death on December 22, 1971, about two years after I was born.

  • Author: Godfried Bomans
  • Title: Herinneringen aan Godfried Bomans
  • Pages: 303
  • Published: MCMLXXII
  • Publisher: Elsevier
  • ISBN: 9010 01080 5

This book, thrust into my hands by a nice second-hand bookseller in Deventer when he saw me selecting Mijmeringen and Capriolen (both already read, but I haven’t typed up a notice — I’m horribly behind.), is both an interesting sketch of the life and times of the Netherlands in the first half of the twentieh century, and an interesting window onto the life of one of the best, most agile authors who worked in the Dutch language.