The View from Here: Books from the Netherlands

viewfromhereWelcome to the Netherlands which is the next country in the View from Here series on literature from around the world. We’re going to be in the expert hands of Judith,  a self-confessed bookaholic who is renowned for her Leeswammes’ blog.

Let’s meet Judith

Not only do I read a lot, I have two blogs with book reviews and I have my own editing company, Book Helpline. So, there are few moments in the day that I’m not busy with books.

My English blog is called Leeswammes’ Blog and it’s all about books! Mostly I post book reviews, but also other bookish things. Three times a year I run the Literary Giveaway Blog Hop, where bloggers give away books to their readers. I also have a Dutch blog, De Boekblogger for my reviews of the Dutch books I read. Last year, I ran a challenge for Dutch readers to read more Dutch authors. 🙂

Yes, I read both in English and Dutch. Not a great feat: I was born in the Netherlands and spent many years in England. I even have an English husband and English children!

I love contemporary fiction, a bit of literary fiction. I love dystopia, for the great ideas that many authors have about a future world (even if it’s usually quite depressive). I also read thrillers and chick-lit. Quite a mixture of genres!

Q. What kinds of books are the most popular right now in the Netherlands?

We love Scandinavian thrillers. We also love biographies and memoirs by famous people, and books about dieting and cooking. We read a lot of translated books, for instance, Dan Brown, Nora Roberts, you know the kind. From the current top-25, 11 are translated (I checked!).

Q. What books do you remember having to study in school that could be considered classics of Dutch literature?

That would be writers like W. F. Hermans, Harry Mulisch and Simon Vestdijk. They are 20th Century writers that were very popular at the time. The first two are still read a lot by school children. My favourite book I discovered while at school: Beyond Sleep by W.F. Hermans, about a trip to northern Norway.

Q. What effect did the upheaval of World War 2 have on the Dutch literary landscape – did it change the nature of what authors wrote about?

Yes, many authors wrote about the war, especially in the first few decades after the war. No wonder, they’d lived through it as a teenager or adult. But even much, much later, it still played a role in many books. World War 2 has had a big impact on Dutch literature and the whole society as such. The Darkroom of Damocles, again by W. F. Hermans is about a young Dutch man hiding from the Germans to avoid deportation to a factory in Germany.

Q. Who are some of the major writers from the Netherlands that you think deserve more attention? 

Other than the authors I’ve already mentioned, Renate Dorrestein,  is a favourite writer of mine. Her books often contain a surrealistic element, just a hint, so you’re not sure what to make of it. Wonderful!  And Herman Koch, who became famous with his love-it-or-hate-it novel The Dinner. I love the way his characters look at the world. Plus Gerbrand Bakker (The Twin, The Detour) who is also well received abroad and worth a read.

Q. There’s an initiative called the Foundation for the Production and Translation of Dutch Literature that is trying to get more local writers translated into English. Why is this kind of action needed do you think?

I don’t know why it’s needed, but it’s a way to conquer the world without the use of sailing ships, I guess. It’s 400 years ago that we were a major nation. Now, we’re small but in certain areas still influential. For non-Dutch readers I think it’s a great chance to find themselves in the heads of people who are like them, but just a little bit different, living a life that is in some respects quite different and in others, very similar. And a major advantage is, that only the best books get translated!

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