a nutshell: this layered novel imagines thirty days through the lens of Senegalese painter/decorator Alphonse, who glimpses the ‘interiors’ of his clients’ often chaotic lives in the Belgian countryside (the good and the very ugly)
a line: “And I don’t believe in hell. Not after death, anyhow.”
an image: at one point Alphone recalls his mother saying that everyone he’ll meet is a child, and the nicest people are those who are aware of it
a thought: this book took me an incredibly long time to read as I kept dipping in & out, perhaps because of the sheer quantity of things that happen in it – nonetheless Alphonse was one of the most likeable characters I’ve encountered in a long time
a fact: Verbeke is a Belgian writer who writes in Dutch, and this novel was chosen as the best Dutch-language novel of 2015 by readers of a Dutch newspaper
want to read Thirty Days? visit here
a nutshell: set in the 18th century, this utterly absorbing novel weaves together stories of love and cruelty during the period of slavery in Suriname – a raw exposé of life under the chief sugar colony for the Dutch
a line: “Five cents for a pound of sugar, and how many hands, arms, legs and human lives were sacrificed for this!”
an image: many parts of this book were heart-wrenching – one of these moments was the scene in which a child throws himself between his hateful mother and his beloved slave to protect the latter, reflecting how family dynamics were twisted in these oppressive households
a thought: I haven’t been so addicted to a book in a long time – I was reading it at breakfast, on my lunchbreak, right after work – I even had to be comforted by a colleague when I was visibly upset by one plot twist; McLeod is an absolutely masterful writer
a fact: the book was made into a major motion picture, framed differently from the book but still potentially worth a watch!
want to read The Cost of Sugar? visit here
a nutshell: published in 1948, The Black Lake (or Oeroeg) was a staple novel for generations of Dutch schoolchildren – it’s the story of a doomed friendship between the son of a Dutch plantation owner and the son of an Indonesian servant
a line: “Here for the first time we were at a point where we each faced the other in all truthfulness. He levelled his gun”
an image: the scene in which the narrator blurts out his fraught questions around the idea of Oeroeg being “any less” than himself is one that eloquently summarises the absurdity of seeing difference as quantitative
a thought: there were several moments that moved me deeply in this short novel, but particularly the last few pages – I was so wrapped up in the narrative that I overran my lunch break!
a fact: born in 1918 in Batavia (now Jakarta), the capital of the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia), Haasse is often referred to as having been ‘the Grand Old Lady’ of Dutch literature – and has an asteroid named after her!
want to read The Black Lake? visit here
a nutshell: taking on two semesters of teaching ‘Yugoslav literature’ at the University of Amsterdam and very much grieving the loss of her country of origin, Yugoslavia-born Tanja coaxes her fragile students towards ‘Yugonostalgia‘ – and there begins Ugrešić’s stimulating exploration of exclusion, memory, language, identity…
a line: “Retouching is our favourite artistic device. Each of us is a curator in his own museum.”
an image: breaking down after admitting she got lost in her old Zagreb neighbourhood, Tanja tries to express to an unmoved passenger on a plane how the trauma of exile hit her where she had least expected it
a thought: I picked this book up from my local library and thought it sounded interesting – but now, since Ugrešić seems to have taken a vehemently anti-nationalist stand after war broke out in 1991 in her native former Yugoslavia, I’m a little uneasy about putting it out there as my ‘Croatia’ book for the project (esp. given the author in fact holds Dutch citizenship); in time perhaps I’ll come to swap in another
a fact: Ugrešić worked for many years at the University of Zagreb’s Institute for Theory of Literature, which explains the many literary references interweaved into the pages
want to read The Ministry of Pain? visit here