Girlfriends gossip, argue and wallow in their own misery

Girlfriends gossip, argue and wallow in their own misery

1. Maarten Frankenhuis: Escaped into the lion’s den

In his first novel Dream hiding described veterinarian and former director of Artis Maarten Frankenhuis the life of a Berlin Jewish boy who accidentally went into hiding in Artis for three years. The idea for the second historical novel Escaped into the lion’s den arose while leafing through the almost sixty year old manuals from his military service. What would Frankenhuis (1942), he writes in the foreword, have done in his twenties to survive the war? He developed the idea into an impressive story about the young Dutch Jewish veterinarian who, using a false ID as ‘Gerard de Korte’, registers for German employment to escape deportation. He is posted as a farmhand on the Vierhaus family farm in Westphalia. Gerard should not show that he is more than that and when he suspects that ‘his’ cows and even his owner are infected with the foot and mouth virus, he casually mentions it to the daughter of the house who then calls in the vet. Even when Gerard turns out to have fathered a child with this woman, he has difficulty concealing his true identity. Historically speaking Escaped into the lion’s den a small reference work and highly recommended as a novel.

Maarten Frankenhuis: Escaped into the lion’s den. Amphora Books, 286 pages. € 22.50

2. Rosita Steenbeek: Julia

Another historical novel is Julia about the daughter of the Roman emperor Augustus (63 BC-14 AD). Rosita Steenbeek. As many sources as Frankenhuis had at his disposal for his novel Escaped into the lion’s den, so little was known about Julia. Steenbeek found her sources among historians, but also in another sympathetic way: she visits archaeological excavations such as the Domus Augusti where Julia lived in 39 BC. would have been born, walks on the Roman Forum, travels to possible places where Julia lived, visits museums and is inspired by lines of poetry from Virgil, Homer, Ovid and Sappho (books ‘are the company you can choose yourself’). The result is a beautiful fictional biography of the adventurous, idiosyncratic Julia. Immediately after her birth, she was separated from her mother Scribonia, who was put aside by Augustus (“She was no longer useful”) to make way for Livia – a more selfish and power-hungry stepmother could not be imagined. Julia escapes the ‘stuffy confines’ of her father’s regime by enjoying herself with her literary friends at Sempronius’s house. There she sees her mother again, meets her extramarital lovers and becomes involved in the conspiracy against her father. The most bitter episodes in Julia’s life concern the husbands assigned to her by her father – always for his own greater honor and glory because he thereby chooses his own successor. Against the backdrop of the ever-expanding Roman Empire, the next thirty years unfold for the free-spirited Julia, who will go through fire for her children but does not deny herself pleasure. Steenbeek revives classical antiquity and writes wonderfully about (ancient) Rome. Well worth reading, also for grammar school students who are struggling through mandatory exam literature.

Rosita Steenbeek: Julia. Prometheus, 320 pages. €23.99

3. Marion Pauw, Elle van Rijn, Roos Schlikker and Femmetje de Wind: Four hikers & a Sicilian

‘That constant talking, that wallowing in one’s own misery, the gossiping and arguing. It makes my eyelids throbbing.’ These are the words of Lot, one of the four women who walk the Via Francigena pilgrimage route together in Sicily. It’s an accurate summary Four hikers & a Sicilian written by Marion Peacock, Elle van Rijn, Roos Schlikker and Femmetje the Wind. The design is nice: all four writers had a character in mind that was close to themselves, but at the same time fictional. Then they actually hit the road. Writing took place in the evening and editor Lenneke Cuijpers managed to forge the ‘complex pieces into one whole’. The result is a hilarious, well-written novel about four women who needed a break: the overworked relationship therapist Hannah, the young Bibi who has had a stroke and wants to get away from being ill, the crisis worker Lot who has an adulterous husband and actress Joy who has been cast aside by her casting agency. They walk under the guidance of Vincenzo, who takes everything seriously. There are many highlights in this book, such as when the actress Joy ‘has’ to do an online audition from Prizzi, where WiFi is installed especially for her because the village believes that the Dutch Sofia Loren will be visiting. But the serious conversations about death, discrimination or Bibi’s reunion with her concerned father also give the novel a little more weight than just the predicate ‘hilarious’.

Marion Pauw, Elle van Rijn, Roos Schlikker and Femmetje de Wind. Four hikers & a Sicilian. House of Books, 320 pages. € 22.99

4. Hassnae Bouazza: A suitcase full of lemons

Suddenly her mother, her last parent: the world of, dies Hassnae Bouazza (1973) collapses. Her mother was her beacon, her anchor, her everything. In A suitcase full of lemons, a requiem, an intimate portrait, she describes her mother’s special character – ‘razor-sharp, mercilessly funny, full of life, but also intensely shy in company’ – and their special bond. Initially, a return to life seems almost impossible for her grieving daughter. Regret, guilt, longing, despair, it’s so much… If only she could shower her mother with ‘kisses’ and ‘hugs’ again, like before. And yet, little by little, Bouazza discovers that ‘dead’ and ‘disappeared’ are not the same. Her mother is still there, haunting the lemon tree in the yard in Morocco or among the busy quacking ducks that she often fed at her house in the Netherlands. And most of all, it exists forever in flavors and scents. Bouazza, best known as a culinary journalist, fantastically describes the dishes from home that she recreates. It’s as if her mother is standing next to her at the kitchen counter and they sing together (‘That’s the way, Uhu-uhu, that’s the way, I like it‘). She draws you in when she elaborates on seemingly simple matters, such as how to wash coriander. In her mother’s way.

Hassnae Bouazza: A suitcase full of lemons. Memories of my mother. Ambo|Anthos, 200 pages. €20.99

5. Femke Krijger: The balancing artist

In The balancing artist describes lawyer and coach Femke Krijger how she lives with Usher’s syndrome: a chronic condition in which both vision and hearing deteriorate with the risk of complete blindness and deafness. She has known this since she was sixteen and she leads as normal a student life as possible, but as she gets older, gets married and has children, Usher makes life increasingly difficult. She loses her job and searches for a new balance to cope with the disease. Krijger’s observations are confrontational; for herself because she is ‘terrified’ of what is to come, but also for the ignorant people who show no understanding. Passersby who think she walks too fast with her cane and shout after her that she apparently doesn’t need it. Then and at many other times she takes out her hearing aids: what doesn’t belong, what doesn’t hurt. She would like to use jokers (‘ten for every month or so’): for a hug, to walk with her to the bus stop and even two for the refrigerator so that she can find everything. For many, there will be no joke in her quest to regain the ‘wholeness’ of her existence – when she could still hear and see. She does everything, even the five-year training as a shiatsu therapist, to stay in touch with the ‘outside world’. The condition is that he opens up to her. The first step could be to read this special debut. Absolutely recommended.

Femke Krijger: The balancing artist. Ten Have, 264 pages. €20.99

6. Herman van Lunen: We wish you much success in your future life

What Özcan Akyol writes in the foreword of We wish you much success in your future life about his experiences with the probation service (he was given community service five times for various reasons), is in stark contrast to the experiences of the author of the book himself. Probation officer Herman van Lunen uses ten cases to highlight how he tries to get the lives of suspects and delinquents back on track. Van Lunen, 22 years in the profession, believes in the person behind the crime (‘victim-conscious work’) and he has a big stick behind the door: if people do not comply with the conditions imposed by the judiciary or the agreements with him, he reports that to the judiciary with all the consequences that entails. The cases vary from violent crimes, drug crime to rape cases in which he supervised the perpetrators, sometimes for eight years, with varying degrees of success. All the people in the book exist, although ‘some stories are made up of different cases’. Fascinating.

Herman van Lunen: We wish you the best of luck with your future life. Thomas Rap, 366 pages. € 23.99