I have received the same two questions several times regarding ‘A Month of Dutch Literature’ over the past weeks. So, since I have yet to finish a new Dutch book, I thought it might be useful to try to answer them here.
- How do you define “Dutch literature”?
This is an incredibly difficult question. And I was secretly hoping it wouldn’t come up. But I know I should have realised it would – it is a very relevant question after all. How do I define Dutch literature? First let me start by saying that I didn’t realise that the word “literature” would be sending a bit of an elite message. I felt Dutch books didn’t cover what I was trying to do, since that seemed to suggest reading them in the original language and would exclude so many of you. So, I chose to use literature. However, I never meant to exclude children’s books, or any other sort of books. I love Dutch children’s books and I would love more people to read them! So, please don’t take “literature” as in ‘literary’ or anything.
And then for the harder part of the question: What do I mean when I say ‘Dutch’? Do I mean authors from this country, authors writing in Dutch (ie. would Flemish books be included?) and what about authors who were born in another country but write in Dutch? Now, let me say that I do not like the idea of me defining what people can and cannot read for this month. I am totally fine with blog posts about Flemish authors, or authors who have lived in a different country, before moving to the Netherlands and writing in Dutch. It is really what you yourself want to consider Dutch (of course,there is such a thing as common sense, a writer from the UK who writes in English wouldn’t be Dutch lit). So: you are free to give your own interpretation of “Dutch literature”, and if you’re unsure if your author fits, maybe you could include your thoughts on it in the post?
Why I find it difficult to answer that “of course, Flemish lit is Dutch lit”, is because of our political past. I don’t want any Belgians to assume that I think their country is practically the same as the Netherlands. I do not. And I am aware of how incredibly arrogant that must sound. However, I do feel that taken widely, Dutch lit could be interpreted as a large group that includes literature from both countries.
- Why do you read so many Dutch books in translation?
The are two reasons why I read half of the books I posted about this month in English. First of all, there’s the practical side of things: Sometimes (and I know this is weird and hard to believe – but it is true) buying a book that was originally written in Dutch, is cheaper when you buy the English translation. Nomad’s Hotel by Cees Nooteboom, for example, was much cheaper in English. But that particular book, and most of the time, it isn’t so much a conscious choice, but what options you come across. I hadn’t seen any Dutch edition of Nomad’s Hotel before I found the English one. However, there is also an other reason, which is also the more important one. I consider myself to be an international blogger, I blog for a large audience and the majority of my readers certainly aren’t from the Netherlands. So when I decided to educate myself a little on Dutch literature, I wanted to do it in a way that could be of interest to my readers. My solution was to try to only read books that have been translated to English and are thus available in other countries. And, since I never read a book just for the story, but also for its style, I wanted to be able to remark on the style of the story in its English translation. I know many readers are hesitant to read translations, and I always feel a little hesitant when I go on and on about how I love the style of a certain author in Dutch: What if all of that changes in an English translation? So, I sought to find some sort of balance in reading original Dutch and translated books for this month. Personally, I do not mind reading Dutch books in English. Oh, and if I read a book in Dutch, I always try to get a feel of the English translation by looking at a few pages of the English edition, if possible.
I hope this helps. Any further questions are always welcome of course.