“How small is the God who has no humor”

“How small is the God who has no humor”

1. Delphine Horvilleur: Living with our dead

The Parisian Rabbi Delphine Horvilleur is regularly asked: What does it actually mean to be a rabbi? The Jewish clergyman leads services, guides, teaches and translates texts, but for Horvilleur the profession comes closest to ‘storyteller’. In Living with our dead she shows how carefully formulated stories about a life or loss that she has experienced up close could also be a comfort to others. The first story is immediately very moving; Horvilleur leads the funeral of the feminist psychoanalyst and columnist Elsa Cayat (the ‘psy of Charlie’), who was killed along with eleven others on January 7, 2015 in the attack on the editorial office of the satirical weekly magazine Charlie Hebdo. Taking as an example a fragment from the Talmud, about sages who almost eighteen centuries ago convinced ‘the Eternal’ that man may interpret God’s law, Horvilleur connects this freedom of interpretation with the work of the editors of Charlie Hebdo (‘How small is the God who has no humour’). In addition to these very personal stories, the collection is full of asides and explanations of traditions such as the symbolism of laying pebbles on a grave; namely literally helping to build the memory of the deceased. What Horvilleur emphasizes in these reflections is that the dead remain around us – especially, of course, in the stories we tell about them. She paraphrases that thought even more beautifully by explaining why she became a ‘rabbin’ 25 years after the assassination attempt on Yitshak Rabin. Absolutely recommended for the beauty of stories, traditions and original, including political, thoughts.

Delphine Horvilleur: Living with our dead. An essay about comfort. De Arbeiderspers, 224 pages. € 21.50

2. Gerry van der List: Romans, that’s us

And what about Catholic men who put themselves at the service of the faith? EW-editor Gerry van der List wrote a nice journalistic overview of the situation with Catholicism in the Netherlands and focuses on this Romans, that’s us in particular the priesthood: a difficult and intensive profession that not only involves ‘care of souls’ and ‘anointing the sick’, but also management functions such as solving financial shortages and preventing church closures. Van der List takes a tour of courses, sees how many foreign students attend the seminars and how they have to find their own way in the Netherlands. Van der List also discusses sexual abuse within the church and how the Netherlands has “handled things well”, according to Bishop De Korte of the diocese of ‘s-Hertogenbosch. What is striking, however, is how little information people have about the so-called ‘exorcism’; By saying prayers and performing actions the priest could drive out the devil or demons. Fortunately, Van der List found an ‘auxiliary exorcist’ who could also explain this task of the priesthood to him. Just a few examples from the very balanced, well-written overview of what being a priest in the Netherlands entails with interviews, reports and a lot of own research.

Gerry van der List: Roman Catholics, that’s us. Priests in the Netherlands. Prometheus, 222 pages. €24.99

3. Kristien Hemmerechts: Hubertina

The strict Catholic miner’s daughter Hubertina Aretz (1893-1973) had a special double life. She was born in Germany, worked for years in the Netherlands as a ‘pastor’s maid’ and during the war she helped Jews in hiding in Antwerp. At the same time, Hubertina pretended to be a nurse and worked at night in the ‘Krieglazarett’, the German war hospital where she worked with German soldiers. The Flemish author brings this double life of resistance and collaboration Kristien Hemmerechts in the novel Hubertina subdued in map. Hemmerechts bases his work on testimonies from Hubertina herself and her own research in archives and ‘to fill in the gaps, an appeal has been made to imagination and empathy’. Hubertina survives the prison sentence and Ravensbrück concentration camp and after the war, then an emaciated woman weighing 32 kilos, has to recover for years in clinics in Denmark, Sweden and Switzerland. Even if hatred erodes her during the war (‘Forgive me Lord, so I prayed, deliver me from hatred, one day, but not yet, now I need that hatred’), after the war she will advocate mutual forgiveness, reconciliation and amnesty for the convicted collaborators. Enervating and philosophical.

Kristien Hemmerechts: Hubertina. De Geus, 352 pages. € 22.50

4.Clare Pooley: The travelers on platform 5

The British writer Clare Pooley decided on the novel The travelers on platform 5 to break with the unwritten ‘commuter rule’ that you do not exchange a word with the travelers you see every day on the train on the way to work. Main character Iona gives her fellow travelers a nickname that suits their appearance and the station where he or she gets on and off: ‘Chic-but-Sexist Surbiton’ for example, a handsome man but not a gentleman in any way. The light, humorous novel is set on the Hampton Court-Waterloo Station route, which Pooley used to take every day as a child on his way to school and back. From the moment ‘Chic-but-Sexist Surbiton’ threatens to suffocate, commuters have to start talking to each other. The ice is broken and from then on they form a kind of train family that shares joys and sorrows but does not reveal the back of their tongues. Who are they, where do they work and what is their home? They talk, laugh and connect until one day Iona, who has had a kind of Lieve Mona column in a magazine for thirty years, is no longer on the train with her dog. Pooley gets the family into action. Even though it is all a bit predictable, the stories are drawn from life.

Clare Pooley: The Travelers on Platform 5. (The People on Platform 5). Translation Hi-en Montijn. Cargo, 350 pages. € 12.99

5. Lot Vekemans: No one waits for

In the series ‘Literary gems’ in which an easy-to-read text is published every month in a hardcover edition, the script for the theater performance of the same name is No one waits for (2017) published by a playwright and novelist Lot Vekemans. The story is about three women (played by one actor) who briefly explain what concerns them: an 85-year-old Limburg woman who tries not to be annoyed by the mess on the street, a politician who announces her resignation as party leader after the elections. and an actor who is generally concerned about social developments. What unites them is that they want change to make society more livable. You may be insecure, you may fail, but think along, show initiative instead of just criticizing from the sidelines. Vekemans achieves this in her valuable text with short visual sentences and a lot of repetition (My annoyance/My business/I have learned that/My annoyance/My business/Everything that annoys me and that I can do something about/is my business/ And anything that annoys you and that you can do something about is your business). The performance was played in various council chambers and town halls in 2018 in the run-up to the municipal elections to trigger politicians and voters to think about their role in society. The fact that it is now also published in book form makes it even stronger because it can be read, played and then discussed by everyone. And to get started: what does the title tell you? A comforting thought, nothing at all, lonely or alarming perhaps?

Lot Vekemans: Nobody waits for you. B for Books, 64 pages. €24.90 (set of 10). Also available per piece in many bookstores for € 2.49

6. Lia van Bekhoven: Little Britain

When Lia van Bekhoven went to live in London in 1976 – with her husband and because of her husband – but without work, Prince Charles was single, there was open discrimination and England still had a coal industry. ‘Even JK Rowling had never heard of Harry Potter.’ In her own humorous and never-sparing way, the UK correspondent knows Little Britain to analyze the island in all its layers; She may have adopted that self-mockery from the British (‘It is a quality that everyone possesses, even the queen’). Van Bekhoven knows so much and has so much experience that in short observations she sums up the characteristics of the British with great certainty (‘British are not intellectuals’), dissects their language and also points out the differences with the Netherlands. In England, for example, you don’t complain, as Vekemans said: ‘My annoyance/My business’ and Van Bekhoven goes one step further: ‘Making a scene is out of the question. In this country it is best to pretend you don’t exist’. Of course there is also a lot of room for the history of the United Kingdom, British politics (‘The appearance of tradition conceals what really happens’) that takes place in the ‘Victorian amusement park with its wigs and glaring lack of ladies’ toilets’, the differences between Wales, Scotland and England and of course the consequences of Brexit for the British themselves. You can see that Van Bekhoven himself must have had a lot of fun writing this inviting collection.

Lia van Bekhoven: Little Britain. How power and myth tear each other apart. Borgerhoff & Lamberigts, 232 pages. € 22.99