Women with ‘firm breasts’ and the most beautiful train stations in Europe

Women with ‘firm breasts’ and the most beautiful train stations in Europe

1. David de Poel: Exercises in bravery

For the ex-junk, writer and transgender René/Renate Stoute (1950-2000), the recently deceased Jeroen Brouwers was a saint. They wrote letters to each other, Brouwers assessed his stories and comforted him when he received criticism: ‘Don’t wait for “understanding” from critics or the public, because you won’t get it, never. Get on. Writing means persevering.’ In the biography Exercises in bravery leads David de Poel the reader along Stoute’s low points as a heroin addict as well as literary highlights. The publication of the collection of stories On the backs of dirty swans in 1982, stories about Stoute’s life as a junkie, marked a breakthrough: a ‘unique book’ in Dutch literature. In terms of style, themes and energy, according to De Poel, the work can effortlessly compete with work by writers such as Henry Miller, Charles Bukowski and Jack Kerouac; authors who live their lives twice: first in real life, then again behind the typewriter. For Stoute, that life was not only his addiction but also his urge to dress as a woman. He felt comfortable in cross-dressing while not hating his male body – yet he ultimately chose to undergo gender reassignment. In the biography, the very personal diary entries about his (sex) life and sex change with hormones and surgery are carefully incorporated into his/her life story. And Jeroen Brouwers is always involved as a kind of father in Stoute’s considerations. ‘I understand some things’ (…), Brouwers writes to him, ‘but there is no question of “empathetic involvement” on my part’. But his respect for Stoute is great – he wanted to emphasize that. A venerable portrait of a celebrated and also maligned writer who did not feel happy in a male body.

David de Poel: Exercises in bravery. Biography of René/Renate Stoute. De Arbeiderspers, 264 pages. €25.

2. Janneke Siebelink: Sometimes it snows in April

In the last months of the Second World War, women gave birth to their child in the Boerhaave Clinic in Amsterdam, only to have to give it up immediately out of shame about the German father. Not so Helena, who proudly gave birth to her daughter Katharina at her parents’ home in Amsterdam on February 22, 1945 – the name she had promised her German friend, the doctor Friedrich, to give their child. He was stationed on Texel and would come to Amsterdam for Helena and Katharina when the war was over. Describes that things turned out differently Janneke Siebelinkdaughter of writer Jan Siebelink, in her debut novel Sometimes it snows in April. The story is based on ‘true events’, but there is no further mention of the source (although Siebelink thanks ‘Eleonore’ for ‘her story’ in her postscript). That story is romanticized and is reconstructed in flashbacks: alternately in Amsterdam and on Texel, in different times: during the war, after the war. Because the main character Katharina does not understand why her mother Helena paid little attention to her, she searches for her past. Siebelink has an inviting pen, but unfortunately the story is drawn out too broadly in place and time, while the reader has already known for a long time what essentially happened. And that’s a shame because the story is special enough in itself.

Janneke Siebelink: Sometimes it snows in April. A daughter. An island. A concealed past. Ambo|Anthos, 320 pages. €22.99

3. Catharina Botermans: The Black Queen

‘We live in a time when history is constantly being examined, reinterpreted and assessed. And although I do not always agree with the sharp edges of this movement (…) I hope that this book is a contribution to the realization that every narrative is just a perspective and only an accumulation of perspectives can approximate what is really happening. has happened.’ These are the words of a political scientist Catharina Botermans the one with her debut novel The Black Queen provides a great perspective on Catherine de’ Medici (1519-1588), who was originally Italian but came to the French court through her marriage. Botermans begins her novel with the arrival of the Salviati family in Paris. The father will build a new library collection, the mother will join Queen Louise’s court and daughter Fiora will become a servant and confidante of Queen Mother Catherine. So familiar that Catherine asks her to spy on her son, King Henri III, and his court. The Queen Mother especially feels threatened by Duke D’Epernon, who is said to have too much influence over her son. Botermans has found a good balance between inventing and placing Catherine’s life in a well-founded historical perspective. The book is about the disturbed relationships between mother and son, the extravagance of especially the son and his court and about historical events such as the Bartholomew’s Night in 1572 with Catherine who then states: ‘Religion is only the scapegoat for the greed of the man’. Impressive.

Catharina Botermans: The Black Queen. Mosaic, 396 pages. €21.99

4. Jean Giono: Manosque

The French writer and poet Jean Giono (1895-1970) wrote with Manosque a beautiful poetic novella about Provence and more specifically about the vastness and threat of the plateaus (‘hail thrower, thunderbolt bearer, great maker of thunderstorms’), the rivers, the well in his village Manosque where he was born and raised. Ever since his first novel Colline (Hill) from 1928, he let nature have its say and describes what it means to him. This is the merit of a translator Kiki Coumans that the rich vocabulary that Giono has for nature and people has also come into its own in Dutch. His work has often been filmed, several times by writer and film director Marcel Pagnol, who also had a connection with Provence and specifically with Marseile. Manosque is written in the first person and Giono not only has the gift of describing the earth, the sun, the slope of the mountains and the beds of the rivers for pages, but also meets his fellow villagers. His view of women is either very or too graphic where he introduces them with ‘huge breasts’, ‘firm breasts’, ‘meager bosom’, ‘beautiful full thighs’ that move ‘with a sound of young waves’ or ‘feet that straight out of the Bible’. The added Poem of the olive once again testifies to love for nature; this time the process from olive picking to oil pressing: ‘That time of the olives. I don’t know anything more epic.’ Absolutely recommended.

Jean Giono: Manosque. Followed by Poem of the Olive. (Manosque-des-Plateau). Translation Kiki Coumans. Uitgeverij Vleugels, 104 pages. € 23.95

5. Kevin Lygo: Emperors of Constantinople

Before television man Kevin Lygo started at the BBC and eventually became director of the British commercial television channel ITV, he had an art business in Islamic and Byzantine art for seven years. He also had a gallery in Paris for many years. The fact that he is not only a connoisseur of Islamic art is reflected in the particularly clear and inviting design Emperors of Constantinople. The Byzantine Empire was the continuation of the Roman Empire and was founded in 330. It would exist for more than a thousand years and had ninety-two emperors. The word ‘Byzantine’ started out somewhat obscure, the rulers said to be shady, opulent and depraved and professing the wrong kind of Christianity. But that image is incorrect: the emperors and empresses were the perfect example of ‘fiery originality and ambition’. Lygo has the honor of discovering those qualities in the long list of emperors. Starting with Constantine the Great who laid the foundation of the Eastern Roman Empire, later the Byzantine Empire, with Constantinople as its capital. He may have been great in his actions of governing and collecting art, but in his personal life he would prove to be less great; he murdered family or had them murdered. The first female empress was Irene of Athens from 797-802, but ‘once in power she was a disaster’ writes Lygo. She was cruel (had her son Emperor Constantine VI blinded, just as he had blinded his uncle to prevent a coup), but also merciful when she drove theatrically through the streets of the capital and threw handfuls of money at the people. An empress about whom a similar novel to the one about Catherine de’ Medici could easily be written. The Emperors of Constantinople is not only a detailed (art) history book, but due to Lygo’s design it sometimes reads as an exciting novel. Recommended.

Kevin Lygo: Emperors of Constantinople. (The Emperors of Byzantium). Translation by Sylvie Hoyink and Ed van Eeden. Introduction Bettany Hughes. Omnibook, 336 pages. € 34.99

6. Monisha Rajesh: The journey around the world in 80 trains

The travel book The journey around the world in 80 trains from the British journalist Monisha Rajesh appears ten years after her successful one Around India in 80 Trains. She made the seven-month world trip together with her boyfriend (so as not to fall into a depression as happened to her on the first trip through India and to be able to blame each other when she almost missed a train) from London via one of the most beautiful stations on the European mainland, Limoges-Bénédictins, with the Trans-Mongolia Express to Beijing (the first city where she feels ‘lost’ by the ‘Dickensian smog’ and the total unwillingness of the Chinese to speak English). From Tokyo they fly to Canada to travel by train from east to west for five weeks. What is the appeal of long-distance trains? The reader may expect a profound answer, but Rajesh keeps it very simple: ‘There is no other way of traveling that combines my two favorite hobbies: seeing the whole world and lying in bed.’ Does that promise an enthusiastic travel report? The answer is a resounding ‘yes’; Indeed, completely relaxed, she describes all types of trains, the funny or frightening conversations with traveling companions and provides a lot of country and city information.

Monisha Rajesh: The journey around the world in 80 trains. An incredible adventure of more than 70,000 kilometers. (Around the World in 80 Trains). Translation Marja Borg. Ambo|Anthos, 330 pages. €22.99




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