Afraid of bridges, whirlpools and giant wans

Afraid of bridges, whirlpools and giant wans

1. Kirsten van Santen: Grab water

The ‘swimming biography’ Grab water of cultural anthropologist and Leeuwarder Courant-journalist Kirsten van Santen is a remarkable debut: an unexpected subject, masterfully developed. The well-chosen painting Bather (1910) by Léon Spilliaert on the cover, completes the celebration. Van Santen comes from a swimmer’s nest and becomes restless if she doesn’t swim for a long time. In the book she describes her fascination with water in an almost philosophical manner. Whether indoors (‘I collect swimming pools in my head’) or outdoors, whether it is fresh or salt water, she sees and finds challenges everywhere. Her greatest fears are bridges, whirlpools and giant devils. In Grab water all these challenges come to life in various waters of the Netherlands. Alone or together with others; With her young son Birk she swims through a long tunnel pipe that connects the inner harbor with the outer harbor under the bridge square of Dokkum. And when her son is pushed back from the tunnel and asks her if this is fun, she ‘bites’ him that he doesn’t like it that much either. She pulls him onto her back just like before and swims through the darkness towards the light. Cleanly written, beautiful image. Where necessary, Van Santen calls on rescue workers to guide her if, for example, she wants to swim from Terschelling to Ameland: this inlet with strange currents connects the Wadden Sea with the North Sea and is not intended for swimming. The KNRM sails along in a boat to intervene if necessary. It is a gift to write about your own abilities without glorifying yourself. Van Santen can do that and with the many references to (international) literature, she also proves to be very well read. A nice addition to her own rich vocabulary, because who comes up with or experiences fifty adjectives for water?

Kirsten van Santen: Grab water. Atlas Contact 278 pages. €21.99

2. Ton van Reen: The story never written

Limburg, the sixties. One of the three main characters The story never written committed murder in 1959 during an argument that got out of hand in Koningslust. The police quickly managed to extract a confession from one of them because, the reasoning went, if two boys fight over a girl that ends in murder or manslaughter, the one who survives is the killer, right? Who really did it remains hidden until the end of this historical novel, but it becomes increasingly clear that the wrong person spent 12 years in prison for murder. Writer and journalist Ton van Reen based his story on conversations he had as a student nurse in the Ursula clinic for psychiatric patients in Wassenaar with a man who told about a crime that he had not committed but for which he had taken the blame. The drama took place in a monastery village in Limburg and Van Reen, writer of both novels and children’s books, decided to reconstruct it sixty years later. The result is a very beautiful village portrait in which three generations are unconsciously involved in the secret of friends that is broken open in a special way after sixty years. The outcome ties in with the theme of Book Week, First Love, and is at the same time an ode to lifelong friendship.

Ton van Reen: The story never written. In the Knipscheer, 240 pages. € 19.50

3. José Fernanda: The wolves are outside

Amsterdam, the 1990s, a canal house on the Singel divided into apartments and a very lively Owners’ Association (VvE). That is the setting of the novel The wolves are outside by Jose Fernanda in which Eva, a divorcee in her thirties, plays the leading role. She has an anxiety disorder and hardly dares to go outside alone, because large crowds of people frighten her. But she also has to load up on alcohol or ‘anti-thunder pills’ before a meeting of the homeowners’ association. The other residents are more extravagant and take her in tow to ‘club XL’, which resembles the former Mazzo on the Rozengracht – after all, it also went up in flames. But that doesn’t make Eva any happier either. She still commits to an HOA holiday, while she prefers to sit in her own home like a ‘bricked-in nun’ – the words of one of the neighbors – listening to music with a book. The holiday week with fellow residents turns out to be a special experiment or, as Eva concludes: ‘I am increasingly discovering that no one knows anything about anyone’. As Fernanda previously wrote non-fiction about her violent childhood and failed marriage, is The wolves are outside partly based on her own experiences, as stated on the cover. Intriguing and true group portrait in which real fears and the meaning of friendship are explored to the bottom.

José Fernanda: The wolves are outside. De Kring, 288 pages. € 21.50

4. Fred Hisschemöller: You just did that

Nieuwegein, the seventies. At her secondary school in Nieuwegein, Manon Uphoff had the kind of history teacher we all wish we had; a teacher who tells stories outside the textbooks. The rector was not allowed to know that he was teaching illegally and anarchistly, while the teacher only wanted to humanize history. Who was a history teacher Fred Hisschemöller (99) and in You just did that he ‘retells’ with verve the course of almost a century of (national) history. Indeed not as in the textbooks, but from his personal life: how did his upbringing, his school years, his studies, his own family, his working life as a teacher relate to the time in which he lived? Moving stories about his life as a student during wartime, during which he joined the Children’s Committee, the organization that sought hiding places for Jewish children. He had to convince parents to let their children go. ‘Difficult conversations’ for a boy of just twenty years old, but that’s what you ‘just did’. His years in Paramaribo in the early 1970s, where he took part in the trade union strikes and witnessed the impending independence, are also described in detail. Back in the Netherlands, his narrative teaching was considered old-fashioned, but according to Hisschemöller, the students at Cals College in Nieuwegein explicitly asked for it. And one of those students was of course Manon Uphoff who wrote a praising foreword.

Fred Hisschemöller: You just did that. A century of the Netherlands through the eyes of a 99-year-old, Meulenhoff, 304 pages. € 22.99

5. Marieke Poelmann: An island in time

Published on May 8, 2020 NRC Handelsblad the essay Parentless and no children of Marieke Poelmann about how ten years after her parents died in a plane crash, she is now trying in vain to become a mother herself. It now appeared An island in time is an elaboration of that piece with an emphasis on the fertility problem of Poelmann and her husband Joost. It will be very recognizable, especially for women who are or have been in the same pregnancy process. The well-written story reads like a confession of life that on the one hand consists of hospitals, doctors, ultrasounds, pills and syringes, but also about daily life next to it, which consists of work, friendships and family relationships. The fact that all three come into sharp focus is due both to Poelmann’s hypersensitivity due to hormone treatment and to old pain, it seems; She hardly has any contact with her eldest brother (‘Unhealthy structures and a different view of reality’), in the street and even with good friends they miss the connection. But especially the fact that her first publisher (her first book was published by De Bezige Bij) informed her by email that they were terminating her contract for a novel runs like an angry thread through the book. Highlights are the meaningful sentences that Poelmann, inspired by the beautiful Letter to a child never born (1975) by the Italian writer Oriana Fallaci, writes to their own never-born child: ‘I want to ask you something. Without knowing if my words will reach you. Why did you change your mind?’ Comforting ego document.

Marieke Poelmann: An island in time. Prometheus, 268 pages. €20.99

6. Joris Linssen: The book Louis

Another personal document wrote historian and television presenter Joris Linssen in the form of a biography of his stepfather. This Louis van Es has had an eventful life; born in a taxi, raised in foster homes, his mother a prostitute who was later murdered by a customer. Louis fell in love with Trix, Linssen’s mother, which brought him into their family. Linssen wrote based on many conversations with his mother and others who knew Louis The book Louis. A special role is reserved for Suzan (‘If her father doesn’t drink, he is the sweetest daddy in the whole world’), the daughter of Louis and his ex-wife. Louis wrote letters to her that are printed in the book. The question is whether the book is too personal to publish; although there are at least two topics that might appeal to a wider audience. The consequences of excessive drinking and what a reunion of family members can bring. There is no doubt that Linssen tells the story in a loving tone, creating a beautiful tribute to the man who gave them as much care as love.

Joris Linssen: The book Louis. The unlikely story of my inspiring stepfather. Luitingh-Sijthoff, 204 pages. €20.99