Logbook of the Low Countries

Logbook of the Low Countries

You could be forgiven for thinking this is probably not something you'd buy on impulse. After all, it sounds like the sort of dusty old title you might stumble across in a secondhand bookshop. But for any history buffs out there, don't stop reading just yet! Because Dutch economist and history connoisseur Wout van der Toorn, has poured his heart and soul into Logbook of the Low Countries, and appears to have compiled almost every single historical episode afflicting the Lowlands, and set it against major historical events that occurred in the rest of the world. Example: If you've ever wondered what else was going on in 1793 when the Southern Netherlands had once again been conquered by a pesky Austrian regime then I'm chuffed to enlighten you, that Dutch suppression commenced in the same year that Louis XVI and his ('Let them eat cake') Mrs, were being guillotined in Paris! Going back as far as 150,000 BC (when Northern Europe was still connected to Scandinavia by glacial ice apparently), it stomps along right up until 2010, with the election of Mark Rutte, the first Liberal Prime Minister of the Netherlands for nearly a century. Let's be honest about this, Logbook of the Low Countries will not appeal to everyone (although frankly, we could all learn quite a bit from the knowledge it imparts), but that doesn't mean it's not worth reading. This is a beautifully produced book in hard cover, illustrated with some lovely old maps, and full of historical facts that will certainly titillate anyone with an interest in history. Buy this book Shelley Antscherl www.shelleyantscherl.com  More >



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Dear Mr M

Herman Koch is widely acclaimed for his 2009 novel Het Diner (The Dinner) – a book that sold over 1 million copies in Europe, was translated into 21 languages, and has been produced as a play and film. In addition, Koch’s biography of work includes eight novels, seven short story collections, newspaper columns, and acting roles or collaborations with various Dutch film, television and radio programmes. Two years ago Koch published his latest novel Geachte heer M in Dutch. The book has been translated to English and released by Picador, a UK publishing house, under the title Dear Mr M In short, Dear Mr M is about a once famous writer (Mr M) adjusting to his decreasing popularity with the reading public. After an illustrious career, he is now reduced to book signings at village libraries and literary dinner events diminished by budget cuts matching the reduced earnings of the invited authors. Mr M is being stalked by someone who believes that he is a character in the author’s most famous murder mystery, and is seeking a different outcome to the tale. Thriller The book cover blurb describes the novel as a 'literary thriller', and indeed it is both literary (main character is an aging author; main plot is based on a real event shaped by the confabulations of the author without regard to facts; an abundance of criticism of the literary world) and a thriller (a missing person, many possible suspects and motives). Yet, 'literary thriller' is somewhat misleading and may disappoint readers seeking the excitement of a novel that demands to be read in a single sitting, like The Dinner. Nevertheless, Dear Mr M is a clever story. The narrative comes from the perspective of five characters covering several decades. Koch insists that the reader stay focused, offering the occasional red herring to the plot that disappears as the next clue box is opened. This technique continues to the last few pages. Not likeable The Dutch Foundation for Literature describes Herman Koch as 'an ironic-realistic writer relating dramas worth telling', who writes about characters '… burdened by their empty existence…'. Given his cast in both The Dinner and Summer House with Swimming Pool (2011), the description rings true. Koch does not create likeable people. At almost 450 pages it is a long, slow read with a cast of characters who don’t elicit reader empathy. Herman Koch exposes the underbelly of the Dutch upper class, a perspective not usually given, but perhaps one to be expected from the boy once expelled from Amsterdam’s Montessori Lyceum. Buy this book Ana McGinley  More >


Stuff Dutch People Like takes on food and mothers

The Stuff Dutch People Like empire has done some considerable expansion in 2016 with a look earlier this year at language and now a plunge into food and the world of motherhood. Author Colleen Geske, a Canadian by birth, has now turned her attention to celebrating Dutch parenting and asks herself 'why do Dutch mums have it all?'. It did not start out that way. 'Home births were not urban legends, as I had hoped, but a frightening reality,' she writes in the introduction. 'Could I actually give birth, let alone raise a family, in this country far away from the comforts and familiarities of home?' Colleen is now the proud mother of two children, both born in the Netherlands and both growing up into little Amsterdammers. The book Stuff Dutch Moms Like is based partly on her experiences, partly on heaps of facts and useful information, and partly on the experiences of others mothers, both Dutch and foreign. Dutch parenting, she states, has often been described as laid-back, relaxed and quite permissive. Not that she would argue with these observations, you understand, but that 'you could make the wrong assumption that this parenting style is without substance or reason'. Helicopter mums have yet to arrive in the Netherlands and freedom, independence and letting children be children are paramount. The style is light and informative - like chatting to a friend - and Colleen's enthusiasm so persuasive you might end up wishing you were having a baby yourself, just to test it all out. Buy this book   Stuff Dutch People Eat The fourth book in the Stuff Dutch People Like stable is a homage to the Dutch snackbar and dinner table. Complete with recipes for pea soup, grandmother's apple pie and even stroopwaffels, Stuff Dutch People Eat is a lavishly illustrated celebration of Dutch food. And yes, she does throw in recipes for roti and nasi goreng for good measure. Liberally sprinkled with humour and exclamation marks, Colleen is even positive about boerenkool and herring - which must mean she is a fully integrated Dutch cook. This is a great gift for a new arrival, a longer term resident or someone who has left the Netherlands and is still nostalgic for a bitterballen or olliebollen at New Year. Now they can make them themselves. Buy this book  More >


The Dyslexic Hearts Club

Initially published in 2014, The Dyslexic Hearts Club is the second novel by Hanneke Hendrix. Born in 1980, Hanneke Hendrix grew up in a small southern town in the Netherlands. She studied writing at the University for the Arts in Utrecht and philosophy at Nijmegen’s Radboud University. As a writer, Hendrix writes for literary production companies, radio, podcasts, theatre groups, festivals, and various journals. Her first book, De Verjaardagen (translation: The Birthdays) was shortlisted for the Dioraphte Prize, the Academia Debut Prize, and the Woman and Culture Prize. Essentially this is the tale of three women who escape from a secure burns unit while under police guard to embark on a crazed road trip. Their escapades gain wide public interest as the media disperse daily updates on their attempts to avoid capture. Three smoking women The narrative opens with three women sharing a small hospital room. All three have severe burns of a non-accidental nature and are being detained in the room pending legal investigation. The story is told from the viewpoint of Anna van Veen. She quickly becomes entwined in the lives of her two room-mates as they share personal stories to deal with the long empty days stuck in a small confined space. The pace quickens when the three escape from the hospital, steal a car and kick off a nationwide chase that grabs the attention of the Dutch public. Along the way the reader is exposed to further details of the situations leading to the women meeting one another in the hospital. Additional characters are introduced as the three purloin clothes, food, money and vehicles in their race to avoid the authorities. The joy of running riot Described as quirky and bizarre, the characters, dialogue and plot may not hold up under close scrutiny – yet somehow this is part of the fun. The personal stories that the three women tell one another unravel to include more fact and less fantasy as the story progresses. It is an effective tool Hendrix has used to keep the reader turning pages. The title of the novel refers to the name the women give themselves on discovering they share the trait of being unable to make sense of the feelings they have, even though others have explained the feelings to them many times. It also relates to the 1992 song by Paul Westerberg Dyslexic Hearts. The Dyslexic Hearts Club is an entertaining, fast-paced read. Translator, David Doherty, has competently incorporated the black humor into the English version of the novel, which was published in 2016 by World Editions. With obvious similarities to the film Thelma and Louise this novel begs to become the first Dutch road film. The Dyslexic Hearts Club was nominated for the BNG Literary Award in 2014. Ana McGinley  More >


Sunshine Soup

The life of an expat wife in a far-flung destination has all the classic ingredients for a jolly good chick-lit novel and who better to pen the story than someone who'Ž“s lived the life and turned it into an art form? Sunshine Soup: Nourishing the Global Soul, is the first foray into fiction for renowned author, publisher and Expat Entrepreneur Jo Parfitt, and tells the story of a group of friends (and trailing spouses) living in Dubai in 2008. Maya leaves behind a successful catering business to follow her husband'Ž“s career to the Middle East and quickly discovers that no amount of shopping and manicures can replace her life-long passion for cooking, and losing the professional identity she has worked so hard to achieve. Even domestic salvation in the form of Annie the housemaid eats away at Maya'Ž“s self-esteem as she begins to feel usurped in the very place she has always found sanctuary and fulfilment her kitchen. But before long Maya finds kindred spirits in other expat wives and soon discovers new and exciting opportunities in unexpected quarters in a storyline that trots along at a satisfying pace. If you'Ž“re a fan of this genre then Sunshine Soup will certainly gratify, and typically with any of Jo Parfitt'Ž“s offerings, you get more than just a book and here she'Ž“s included twenty recipes at the end in a nice nod to the main character, Maya (the anchovy and lemon dip incidentally, is quite delicious!). Sunshine Soup is a fictional account of the realities of life for many women living overseas, but ultimately it'Ž“s a tale of friendship, culture shock, grief and temptation against an exotic backdrop with a cast of characters who will resonate with expat women everywhere. Buy this book Shelley Antscherl  More >


The Little History of The Hague for Dummies

Adding to the Dummies franchise of books is a new historical reference guide to The Hague. Written by Leon van der Hulst and translated by Barbara Stuart, A Little History of The Hague for Dummies is a pocket book of 159 pages encompassing 6,000 years of life in the political capital of the Netherlands. Despite its size, it adheres to the traditional Dummies format with the familiar icons and concluding with a list of 10 interesting facts. History books usually read like storybooks. They are, after all, a tale of events that have taken place over long periods of time. The For Dummies reference guides generally target an audience seeking a basic understanding of a topic. As such, The Little History of The Hague for Dummies is successful in highlighting all major developments in the city’s history. The chapters are short and include interesting tidbits on local people and topics that enhance the reading experience. The downside of this book is that the disjointed structure and paucity of information makes it difficult to get a clear grasp on the themes and events that have taken place. Adding to the confusion is the repetition of some details, the fact that the kings had the same name (different number), and the sheer mass of the significant events that demand inclusion but are restricted in length to a few short sentences. It is all in the reading Nevertheless, while a tourist guide will give descriptions about specific buildings, this book provides an opportunity to dive a little deeper into The Hague by offering some historical facts about what happened within its boundaries. A good example is the Huis ten Bosch which was built in 1645 and currently one of the official residences of the Dutch royal family. It has, the book informs the reader, been home to King Louis Napolean and stadthouders Frederik Hendrik, Willem IV and V – and has functioned as a summerhouse, prison, brothel and museum. (p.151) A little summary The Little History of The Hague for Dummies is a pocket size guide to the history of the city. For readers who love their history books, it will whet your appetite to learn more. Tourists will attain a deeper understanding of the city using the guide then possible from travel guidebooks. And for the non-Dutch reader living in the Netherlands, the book will equip you with sufficient knowledge to participate in many discussions about the city without sounding like a total twit. Ana McGinley  More >


Food Shopper’s Guide to Holland

Dutch cuisine is a tad underwhelming, and for foody expats grocery shopping in Holland can be a disappointing and stressful experience, especially if you can't understand the lingo on the packaging. But thanks to two American writers (of European extraction) and their somewhat biblical Food Shopper's Guide to Holland, a maiden voyage to a Dutch supermarket need no longer result in you wanting to open a vein. Food groups and ingredients are split into chapters so that everything you could possibly want to look for is easy to find, and described in both Dutch and English. There is also plenty of good information about speciality shops and what they are called by the natives. A thoroughly comprehensive appendix contains further details on where to buy household items and kitchen supplies as well as an extensive grocery vocabulary and an index of international food shops throughout the Netherlands. Apart from its general usefulness, what I really liked about this book is its cheerful tone. Authors Ada Koene and Connie Moser clearly loved researching and writing their book and you get the feeling they really felt there was a big need to help out the expat sisterhood with the tricky task of food shopping in a foreign land. My only quibble is that the Netherlands isn't quite the culinary treasure trove that Koene and Moser enthusiastically suggest and in reality newcomers to Holland are likely to be disappointed if they expect the range and quality of food products on offer in their home country. Sure, any ingredient can be found if you look hard enough, but realistically this will require scouring ethnic stores and international shops throughout a city rather than locating everything in one supermarket. Having said that, the Food Shopper's Guide to Holland is enjoyable and interesting to read and a truly helpful guide for any newcomer to Holland and if you're sensible enough to peruse it before your first excursion to Albert Heijn, you should find the experience a little less perplexing. Buy this book Shelley Antscherl books@dutchnews.nl  More >


Colonel Baxter’s Dutch Safari

Cartoonist and artist Glen Baxter was first published in the Netherlands 40 years ago. Now he's back with a collection of absurdist drawings covering all things Dutch - from herring and tulips to Mondriaan and Rietveld chairs. Dutch funnyman Wim de Bie, who curates the Glen Baxter Museum, provides the introduction to this slim volume of full-colour drawings and wry comments. In particular, Baxter seems to have it in for Rietveld's famous chair - which is eaten by beavers, turned into a method of execution and a bidet. The humour is gentle and barbed at the same while the little Delft tiles sketched on opposing pages contain some hidden gems. Buy this book  More >


The Darkness that Divides Us

Born in Amsterdam in 1954, Renate Dorrestein began her working life as a journalist for the Dutch magazine Panorama. Her first novel Buitenstaanders (1983) became a bestseller and marked the beginning of an industrious career in literature. Dorrestein has published more than 30 fictional and autobiographical books, some of which have been translated or made into films - gaining her international recognition as a writer of merit. Dorrestein’s collection of work was awarded the Annie Romein Prize in 1993. She won the Vondel Prize for Translation for her novel Heart of Stone and was nominated for numerous literary prizes including the Libris Literature Prize for Een Sterke Man (A Strong Man) and the AKO prize for Zonder Genade (Without Mercy).  Dorrestein has twice written the national Dutch Book Week complimentary book, in 1997 and 2008. The Darkness that Divides Us Initially published in 2003 as Het Duister dat Ons Scheidt, this recently released version was translated by Hester Velmans and is available to English readers as The Darkness that Divides Us. The novel is a family drama infused with mystery. The book is divided into three parts, with each part covering a six-year period. The 26 chapters are titled with a letter of the alphabet, beginning with ‘A is for Abacus’ and ending with ‘Z is for Zeal’. The storyline revolves around a Lucy, a Dutch girl who spends her early childhood living in a rectory with her artist mother and their two male boarders, Ludo and Duco. A tragic crime is committed, resulting in Lucy’s mother being sent to prison and six-year-old Lucy experiencing a drastic drop in popularity with her peers. Her childhood in this idyllic Dutch village becomes an ordeal when the children commence a constant regime of bullying. In Part Two Lucy’s mother is released from jail and returns home. The local community is unwilling to allow her re-entry into the life she had prior to her incarceration. Lucy too is unable to reconnect her relationship with her mother, preferring the company and guidance of Duco and Ludo. Seeking a panacea to their domestic unrest, the four escape to a life of anonymity on the island of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. Here Lucy is given the chance to reshape her childhood with the island children. The final part of the book focuses on Lucy departing Lewis and the care of her guardians for Amsterdam where she plans to live independently and attend college. Her resolution disappears upon seeing someone from her past. She quickly slips into a funk, unable to leave her room. A meeting with her mother in the final pages resolves the mystery that has been weaved throughout the narrative, shaping the lives of the main characters. Beautiful, happy people? No. Dorrestein doesn’t write about beautiful people. She refrains from sentimentality in her character descriptions, choosing instead to expose their flaws. These negative attributes are easily identifiable in the general populace. The children in the book may be adventurous in their antics, yet in general, are written as nasty, dirty, destructive bullies. Adult characters are devoid of empathy and driven by their own insecurities. The plot holds tightly together, tempting the reader further to uncover the secrets hidden in later pages. The translation of this narrative of complicated interpersonal relationships is the work of an extremely skilled translator in Hester Velmans. The Darkness that Divides Us succeeds as an English language novel and is highly recommended. Ana McGinley Buy this book  More >


Whipped Cream Architecture

It might sound like an odd title, but once you read the first few paragraphs it makes perfect sense. Whipped cream is a book of photography with a few pages of information about the origins of the white painted stone 'wigs' that grace the gables of the grachtenpanden (canal houses) in Amsterdam. If the subject matter floats your boat and you are curious about, or interested in the history of Holland_Ž“s distinct architectural style then this is likely to appeal. Whipped cream is a nicely presented glossy picture book without being ostentatious, and a perfectly respectable addition to any Dutch coffee table collection. Buy this book Shelley Antscherl books@dutchnews.nl  More >


The Low Sky: Understanding the Dutch

Fully updated and revised, this book is considered a classic guide to getting to grips with the natives. And yes, that big sky does have an impact! Doe maar gewoon dan doe je gek genoeg ? Act normally, that?s crazy enough. Nine out of ten people in the Netherlands will quote this well-worn saying if asked to come up with a basic trait of the Dutch character. At times Dutch people will ignore you politely at others they will go out of the way to help you. You will get into trouble with the authorities for putting up a fence without permission but, in the late evenings, many family television channels broadcast pornography and advertisements for telephone sex into your living room. Even your best friends reach for their diaries to make a dinner date, because you don't just drop by without being invited. And when you buy them a present they will open it in front of you without batting an eyelid. A country and a people full of paradoxes. Or is there some kind of system behind it all? Han van der Horst paints a picture of Dutch society and the Dutch psyche that will help expatriates to understand the country they are living in and to function properly at work and in their free time. The Low Sky : Understanding the Dutch is the best guide to the Netherlands and its people. This latest edition has been completely reviewed and updated to do justice to the major social changes that have affected Dutch society in recent years. Buy this book  More >