Tag Archives: Dutch Lit Month

Announcing: Dutch Lit Fortnight 2013

Today marks the last Queen’s Day in a long while. It is the day on which Queen Beatrix abdicated and is now once more a princess, leading to the Netherlands having a new King in Willem-Alexander from today onwards. Today, half the population will be celebrating on the streets while the other half is probably following the ceremony on TV.

Me? In between doing both of these things I am thinking about the annual month dedicated to Dutch literature which I inaugurated two years ago. For a long while, I was not sure whether I should organise another dedicated month this year. Several issues came up that I won’t go into now. The key thing, however, is the fact that I simply do not have time to generate enough content, to read enough books, for a whole month. At the same time, after a year of growing recognition for some books written by Dutch authors, I did not want to forget about this event that helps me (and in a way forces me) to discover more of my own country’s literature, and simultaneously perhaps highlights some books that might be of interest to other international readers.

This is why I have decided to organise a Dutch Lit Fortnight this year.

Please feel very welcome to join me in reading one or more books of Dutch literature and writing about them on your blog or in the comment section of my posts, from the 17th of June until the 30th of June.

As in previous years I will be providing some suggested reading before the beginning of the month, and will also offer a giveaway or two.

If there is any interests, I am also contemplating a Read Along of either The Two Hearts of Kwasi Boachi by Arthur Japin or The Twin by Gerbrand Bakker.

If you cannot wait for my suggested this year, feel free to check the Dutch Lit Month tag on this blog, or the Dutch Literature in Translation Review Database, to which you are also invited to add URLs of your own reviews of Dutch literature in translation.

I hope you will contemplate joining me, as I´d love some company during these fourteen days!

Dutch Lit Month Encore & Giveaway Winners

A very very belated post to announce that I finally opened the Dutch Literature in Translation Review Database. It can be found in the tap at the top of the page, or you can visit it directly here. There aren’t that many reviews on there yet, so feel free to add your own by visiting the form here.

Also very belatedly, I hereby announce the winners of the giveaways held during Dutch Lit Month (they have also been emailed – so check your inbox):

  • Congratulations Aarti, you have won an ebook-copy of The Book of Everything!
  • Congratulations Olduvai, you have won a copy of Repatriated!
  • Congratulations terri-maree, you have won a copy of Eep!

I hope to see you next year during Dutch Lit Month!

Dutch Literature Month Wrap-Up Post


Today marks the last day of June, which means Dutch Lit Month is almost at an end for the year. I am really grateful for everyone who participated, everyone who planned to participate and kept me updated on their reading during the month, and simply anyone who left comments. I have had a lot of fun.

I plan to bring the event back next year, though I can never guarantee any definite plans. I am still debating whether a shorter event might work better, for example. If you have any suggestion, please let me know!

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This past week saw the most activity from other participants. Thank you for all your contributions. If I’ve missed yours, please let me know. I have tried to keep up to date on all posts, but I could very well have missed something. For those who posted something: please consider adding any reviews to the Dutch Literature in Review database.

Lizzy contributed two review this week. One of Toon Tellegen’s Raptors, which she favours with 3 stars. This collection of narrative poems managed to delight Lizzy at some turns, but occasionally disappointed her too.

Another post by Lizzy was her review of Bride Flight by Marieke van der Pol. Interestingly, this is a book was a movie before it became a novel. Nevertheless, Lizzy enjoyed the book more (which isn’t always the case for movie-to-book novels). I will definitely be adding this one to the wishlist.

The Tea Lords - Hella HaasseNext up are two review of Hella Haasse’s The Tea Lords.

In her review Suzanne mentions that she liked the novel for the most part, but sometimes felt its focus was unclear. Moreover, she had some problems with the translation.

Mary’s post shows that she found the book portrayed a fascinating episode of colonial history, but that the writing style failed to grab her.

The Storm - Margriet de MoorOlduvai reviews The Storm by Margriet de Moor. She calls The Storm “an emotional, unforgettable read.”

Tony of Tony’s Reading List posted about Cees Nooteboom’s Lost Paradise. His review portrays his mixed feelings about the book: “There’s a lot to like in Lost Paradise, but there are also plenty of things which don’t quite work.”

Julia - Otto de KatJulia by Otto de Kat was also reviewed twice during the past week:

Danielle of A Work in Progress calls the novel a “very moving story–slight in some ways, but powerful nonetheless.” And moreover remarks on the almost seemless translation by Ina Rilke.

Tracey of A Book Sanctuary remarks that Julia might not be for everyone with its slow, reflective style. But she found it “dignified and quite beautifully written.”

The House of The Mosque - Kader AbdolahThough the review of JoV’s Book Pyramid does not mention she read it with the intention to join Dutch Lit Month, I wanted to highlight her review of The House of the Mosque by Kader Abdolah. The review remarks on the complicated issues the novel tackles and the emotional story of Aqa Jaan’s family.

 Last but not least, I want to direct you to Helen’s wonderful ongoing post about her reading of Harry Mulisch’ The Assault in the original Dutch.

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I read a total of sixteen books for this month [not all actually read this month: some were read in preparation during the months before June]. This must be a personal record for most Dutch books read in a year, I think.

The Book of Everything - Guus Kuijer

My absolute favourite book of the past month was Guus Kuijer’s The Book of Everything. Because I want to spread the love for this book you can win your own copy (open until 5 July 2012).

Other books read and reviewed were:

Eep! by Joke van Leeuwen
The Foxes Come At Night by Cees Nooteboom
The Laws by Connie Palmen
Letters to Anyone and Everyone by Toon Tellegen
Julia by Otto de Kat
It’s a Wonderful Life by Jesse Goossens
Repatriated by Adriaan van Dis
Love Life by Ray Kluun
Winter in Wartime by Jan Terlouw
The Hidden Force by Louis Couperus [1, 2]
My Name is Olivia and I Can’t Do Anything About It by Jowi Schmitz
Siegfried by Harry Mulisch
Bitter Herbs by Margo Minco
The Storm by Margriet de Moor
The Tea Lords by Hella Haasse [1, 2]

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A final wrap-up will happen next weekend, when I post the Dutch Lit in Review directory on the blog, which will hopefully help people find English reviews of Dutch literature easily, by having them collected in one place. Again, please feel free to add your reviews of books translated from the Dutch by filling in this form.

At that time I will also reveal the winners for the giveaways held during this month.

Thanks again for your participation and support everyone!

The Tea Lords by Hella Haasse: Discussion Post Part 2

This is the second post for the June Read Along of The Tea Lords by Hella Haasse. Want to join in? Share your opinions in the comments or leave a link to your own post on the book. You can find the first discussion post here.

The Tea Lords - Hella HaasseI should have been able to predict in advance that two more weeks of reading and reflection on this novel has left me with no more definite answers to the questions I asked in the first discussion post. My general question about the use of historical fiction, basing it on historical sources, and striking a balance between non-anachronistic storytelling as well as making the story appealing to your readers, still stands. For more on this question I direct you to litlove’s (first?) post on the book, which generated an interesting discussion in the comments. I do think there are a few things to be said about Rudolf, Jenny, and colonialism, and I will return to them later on in this post.

In short, the second half of The Tea Lords chronicles the gradual transformation of Rudolf’s tea, coffee, and quinine estate into a financially successful plantation. However, this comes at a cost as Rudolf quarrels with most of his family. Meanwhile, Jenny struggles to find joy in her life at the plantation, far away from most people she knows, and almost continually pregnant.

Reading “The Family” and “Gamboeng, the Last Day”

While I was excited to read the second half of The Tea Lords by the end of the chapter “The Couple”, I have to admit that I struggled to get into the story from that point onwards. Rather like I had at the beginning of the book. For me, the pace never really picked up again. I think this is due to the more fragmentary nature of the second half. Quoted letters seem to play a much larger role in this part of the story, while time lapses occur in order to show us the overall developments of several of the characters. This led to less engagement with the story and the characters on my part.

Somehow, the Indonesian words interspersed in the text also started to bother me more, as I felt they now often interfered with the flow of the story at certain places.

I was pleasantly surprised when Haasse mentioned Couperus in her text as well. In between Max Havelaar and Couperus’ The Hidden Force, The Tea Lords makes up a nice third introductory read on the subject of Dutch colonialism in literature.

What made up for the lack of emotional investment in the story was “Gamboeng: the Last Day”. Here, Rudolf is allowed to reflect on his life, and I finally felt an emotional connect to the story as a whole. Where I might have doubted how I would value The Tea Lords during the second half of the story, those last pages firmly established it as a worthwhile read again, though the pages did not manage to erase my doubts about the second half of the novel as a whole.

What did you think of the second half of The Tea Lords? Did you enjoy it more or less than the first half? Why? Did the more fragmentary nature of this part of the story bother you?

Rudolf and Jenny (and colonialism?)

Over the past weeks I have grown to understand Rudolf as being meant to represent some form of “the white, male, upper class colonial”. Of course, this comes with the limitation that one person can never represent a category succesfully, as Sue notes in a comment.

Somehow, by understanding Rudolf’s role in this manner I could go from curiosity to admiration of what Haasse does in The Tea Lords. Because, I think, in a way, she is showing us how a priviliged worldview works.

Reading between the lines there are moments when you can see silencing at work. For example, when Cateau, her husband [I appear to have forgotten his name, was it Henry?], and Jenny and Rudolf discuss August’ broken engagement with Jenny’s sister Maria, Cateau’s husband draws the interesting conclusion that they all agree that the end of the engagement is a good thing for all parties involved. And it is true, Henry and Rudolf do agree. But Jenny, despite her jealousy towards her sister’s better position if she were to marry August, agrees with Cateau that a broken engagement is a bad thing for a women’s reputation. They voice this consideration, but are in effect overruled, silenced and forgotten by Henry’s conclusion.

It was in finding such details that I took immense pleasure while reading The Tea Lords. Moreover, by reconsidering the book in light of Rudolf’s reflections at the end of the novel, I think Haasse in effect manages to highlight the drawbacks of what I will call the “white, male, upper class” privilege displayed by Rudolf. His greed for reputation leads him to make others, even those he loves most, unhappy. In having Rudolf realise this, he is not redeemed exactly, but cast in a more sympathetic light in the end. And Haasse manages to do so in a manner that does not absolve him from complicity. She also does not “judge” him per se, but lets the story do the judging for her. Yes, considering the story in this light, I am quite happy with how Haasse tackled the questions of historical fiction in a colonial setting.

The added perspective of Jenny helps to underline a female perspective on colonialism, and especially the subordinate position she found herself in. Constantly pregnant, Rudolf notices how she struggles with her “burden”, but while they agree to try to have no more children, in effect Rudolf ‘can’t help himself’ and the pregnancies keep occurring. Jenny’s joy in her children, but her simultaneous frustration with her lack of opportunities and influence on the course of her life, were very realistically portrayed, I thought. Yet, at times I felt that I had wanted more from Jenny’s story. If only for the simple reason that in Jenny I found a more sympathetic and interesting character than Rudolf.

In its portrayal of Jenny and Rudolf’s relationship, Haasse’s The Tea Lords focuses on gender and the opportunities of colonial women, more than on the question of ethnicity [or the group of Indonesian women]. Perhaps this is a different story to tell at another time, and it is true that Rudolf’s children remarked on their dad’s classic colonial patriarchal approach at times, but I would have appreciated the added voice of one of the Indonesian inhabitants at the estate.  I’m not sure if it is fair to ask that any story include all sides of the story, and so I hope this isn’t taken as such; I simply know that I would have appreciated it even more. Then again, perhaps in its portrayal of family life on the estate as almost complete contained to the Dutch people there (with the exception of the baboe who is mentioned from time to time), it illustrates how this family might have perceived their own life? I can’t seem to decide if in that case, the reality of this blind spot might have been highlighted more, or if that would have made it unrealistic given the opportunities of a fictional account of actual circumstances. Ah, and we’re back to the same old question I started the discussion with.

How did you feel about Rudolf’s story in the end? And Haasse’s handling of the colonial setting? What was the added value of Jenny’s perspective, according to you? Do you agree with my understanding of Rudolf as some form of a “model 19th-century colonial”?

Other Opinions of Read Along Participants

By now, a few people have posted their own thoughts on The Tea Lords. I hope you will click over to their site to learn more and discuss the book at will. I will add to this list if I come across more posts during the weekend.

Mary over at Our Book Reviews Online shares her opinion on the book. Read more by visiting Mary’s blog post here:

 The Tea Lords is, without doubt, a fascinating account of Dutch colonialism in Java – a phase of history of which I knew absolutely nothing. Unfortunately the writing style totally failed to grab me.

Bibliosue also shares her thoughts. You can read her full review here:

For the most part I liked the novel, but I didn’t love it.  It took a long time for me to get into the book; only when Rudolf began settling down in Java did the pace pick up for me.  The narrative seemed to move in too many directions and I couldn’t grasp the main point — was it Rudolf’s effort to make a name for himself in the tea and quinine businesses; or was it the love story between him and Jenny? And this is just my opinion, but I found the translation a bit awkward.

Litlove offers and interesting discussion of novels versus historical accounts, which highlights the flaws of The Tea Lords:

[M]y own experience of the novel was of characters who faded as the narrative progressed until they were as sepia and hard to make out as the actual mid-nineteenth century figures in those family photos. (…) And yet for all its flaws – and I did think it a flawed book – I thoroughly enjoyed it. So go figure that one out!

Lisa discusses her problems with the lack of critical reflection on the Dutch colonial past in The Tea Lords. She does so very thoroughly.

Would I care about any of this political correctness if The Tea Lords were a page-turning historical novel?  Probably not.  But The Tea Lords is far from a page-turner.  It is too bound to its historical sources for that and some of it (especially Kerkhoven’s interminable rivalry with his siblings) is downright boring.

If you have written a post for this read along, please let me know [either through a comment, tweet, or email?] and I will add the link to this post.

Giveaway: The Book of Everything by Guus Kuijer

Given my enthusiasm for The Book of Everything, I want to offer you the chance to read it too. Unfortunately, it seems the book is currently out of print. So, I have tried to find another way of gifting the book to one of you. But unfortunately, it means I cannot offer everyone the same thing, so please read the following:

The Book of Everything - Guus KuijerI am offering to give one of you a Kindle ebook of The Book of Everything through Amazon. (Barnes and Noble offers the book in ebook format too, but I cannot order it from there as I don’t live in the US myself). This means everyone can enter the giveaway as long as you a) own a kindle or b) are willing to read the book on your computer. For UK people I can also offer to buy a used version of the book. Unfortunately, due to shipping restrictions, this offer is UK only.

Curious what The Book of Everything is about? Here’s the plot summary I wrote for yesterday’s post on the book:

The Book of Everything is the story of a boy called Thomas. Thomas knows what he wants to be when he grows up: he is going to be happy. But he also knows that that’s easier said than done. Especially when you grow up in a household with a father who beats your mother and you. Thomas knows it might take a while before he finds happiness. In the meantime, he records everything he finds of note in his “book of everything”. These are small things, things that sometimes no one else can see. For example, he sees the magic of his neighbour Mrs. van Amersfoort and her efforts to help Thomas. He is struck by the beauty in a girl called Eliza, who has an artificial leg. And he sometimes talks to Jesus during the evening’s prayer.

To enter, you have to:

  • be over 13;
  • leave a comment stating you wish to enter and providing a way to contact you in case you win (preferably an email address, this can be the email address entered to log in to comment, so only I will be able to see it. Be sure it is an address you check regularly!)
Please note that
  • the giveaway is open until midnight GMT on July 5 2012;
  • the giveaway is open to everyone (please read the information above).
  • Those who have or are posting on a Dutch book in translation during June, or participate in the read along of The Tea Lords, will receive an extra entry. One extra entry for each post. There is no rush to know or enter the details for upcoming posts right now. You can come back and leave a follow-up comment with the appropriate URL on a later date during June. Also, please consider adding the data to the Dutch Literature in Review Database.

Good luck to those entering! The winner will be announced on July 6th and will be contacted through email. If he or she has not replied to the email within 7 days, I will choose another winner.