Whenever I am planning a new trip, I always look for literature from the area I’m visiting. Authors that came from the regions or books that are set within certain cities. This way, I get to know a little of the (literary) history of the city. I have found some great books and new favourite authors this way, and I like to share them with you, so you can also emerge yourself into the literary world of… Amsterdam!
Okay so for this post, I didn’t actually had to look for literature. I have lived in the Netherlands all my life and I’m quite familiar with it’s literary history. Though I gotta say that I don’t like to read much of the Dutch literature. Lots of the big Dutch authors are just not my style. There’s a lot of modernism in which nothing really happens, and on the other hand authors like Jan Wolkers and Gerard Reve that like to be provocative, just to be provocative, without it having a function in their books. Those authors are considered to be some of the best authors that my country has to offer, but I just really don’t like them. For instance, Gerard Reve wrote Nader tot u (I don’t think this is translated but the title roughly translates to ‘closer to you’) in which the protagonist has sex with god in the form of a donkey. Reve, then, was sued for blasphemy but eventually cleared since he wasn’t the one who had sex with god, it was the protagonist of his book. That should give you a rough idea of what I mean by being provocative just for provocative’s sake.
Another big Dutch author is Harry Mulisch. His Discovery of heaven was even made into a movie with Stephen Fry! I’ve gotta say that I haven’t read it yet (I know, for shame) but he is considered one of the best.
- The first book that I have to mention here is one that I haven’t read for a while. Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank is a must read if you want to learn a little more about the history of the country. Anne was a Jewish girl in times of the second world war. She kept a diary whilst she was hidden away from the world with her family. In her diary, she writes to ‘dear kitty’ about her fears but also about her life. It’s her coming of age as she spends years in the Achterhuis. Unfortunately, her story does not have a happy end. But she wanted to be a famous writer and her name and book are known all over the world, so in a way, she succeeded. It’s just sad how her story ends.
- Another book that is important for Dutch history is Max Havelaar by Multatuli, a satire about the Netherlands’ colonial past. It received a lot of critique and is important to the history, though the book is kinda boring…
- A truly beautiful book that has a place in the Dutch canon, is Out of Mind by J. Bernlef. It’s the story of a man who is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, written from his own’s perspective. It’s a tragic book about a man who loses himself and at some point, doesn’t realize anymore what is happening. It’s heartbreaking and beautifully written and makes the reader think about the important parts of life. A great piece of literature.
- One of my favourite Dutch authors is actually a writer of children’s books. Annie M.G. Schmidt wrote a lot of short stories, poetry and books for kids. Funny sidenote, she didn’t even like children! Anyway, one of my favourite of her books is Minoes, which is translated as the cat who came in off the roof. The story is about a young woman who used to be a cat, but for some strange reason, she turned into a human being. She can still communicate with the other cats and she uses this to her advantage to help her friend and love interest to write articles for the newspaper.
- Another children’s book that’s fun to look at if you want to explore the Netherlands before your visit, is Netherlands by Charlotte Dematons. It’s a wordless picture book with gorgeous scenes of Dutch life. There are spreads about Amsterdam, the Efteling, the tulip fields, Madurodam and many more. It’s a gorgeous book, for children but for adults as well, if you want to get a look at the country!
- A classic piece of Dutch children’s literature is Letter for the King by Tonke Dragt. The story is about a boy who wants to be a knight. To become one, he has to spent the night before he’s to be knighted, in silence in a locked chapel. When someone knocks on the door, he opens it, breaks his vow and is set on a quest to save the kingdom, even though this will probably kill his chances to become a night. It’s a thrilling historical fiction, a classic story written by a female author.
- A book that is similar to Letter for the King, and another Dutch classic, is How to become king by Jan Terlouw. It’s your classic fulfill-these-impossible-tasks-to-become-king story, but it’s exciting and with a few new twists.
- If you’d like to non-fiction books about The Netherlands, I could really recommend How to be Orange by Greg Shapiro. An american comedian who moved to The Netherlands has penned down his thoughts and experiences. It’s really funny and recognizable for Dutch citizens. Though the book focuses on some topics that are outdated, overall it’s still a great and funny book to get to know more about the Netherlands.