Column |  Hanny Michaelis tells numerous anecdotes about her marriage to Gerard Reve

Column | Hanny Michaelis tells numerous anecdotes about her marriage to Gerard Reve

The war diaries and childhood memories of poet Hanny Michaelis (1922-2007) are among the most compelling ego documents I know. Especially because they are so pure in tone and she spares nothing and no one, including herself. When I cycle through Amsterdam’s Rivierenbuurt, I often think of her descriptions of the Rivierenlaan (now President Kennedylaan) with the view of the Amstel from her parental home. And when I row on that river, it is sometimes as if she is cycling along on the shore to enjoy the budding greenery and the clouds, just like me.

Michaelis’ life was disrupted when she was called up for Westerbork in 1942 and had to go into hiding. Now that she, who had nothing to do with Judaism, was suddenly labeled a Jew by the Germans, ‘the most horrible time’ of her life began. Her parents fared even worse, because they were murdered in Sobibor in 1943. She would always think of them fondly, because it was fun at home, no matter how rude she could be to her mother.

I also read that last one Stuck on the edge of nothingness. Memories and opinions of Hanny Michaelis. It contains detailed conversations that Nop Maas had with her with a view to a biography to be written by him. That doesn’t happen ‘due to circumstances’, but those conversations are still a valuable addition to what you already know about Hanny.

Hanny Michaelis was married to Gerard Reve from 1948 to 1959, with whom she would remain close friends afterwards. A moving passage in the book is about the beginning of their relationship, when Gerard says to Hanny: ‘I’ve had a lot of troubles in my life, but it’s nothing compared to what you’ve had.’ When he tries to seduce her shortly after they meet, he suddenly makes her open her mouth. Michaelis: ‘He tapped my teeth with his nails and said: “The teeth are good.”’

With Gerard she could laugh at these kinds of comments like no other. But due to his homosexuality, they eventually broke up. Gerard thought that was terrible, because she had already experienced so much misery during the war.

Besides Reve enthusiasts, this book is a gold mine for anyone who wants to know how riotous things were in the post-war literary environment in Amsterdam. Michaelis mercilessly serves up tasty anecdotes. About WF Hermans, for example, who always bullied his wife, but from whom she never experienced anything unpleasant herself.

She also talks in detail about the married men with whom she had an affair. Meik de Swaan, Bram’s father, appears to have been her great love. Her beautiful poems about being abandoned are about him and not about Gerard.

What is curious, however, is the merciless way in which she dissects the literary giants of her time. For example, she has nothing good to say about Simon Carmiggelt (‘an annoying man’), HJA Hofland (‘First he wrote pro-Russian and in the same way he now writes pro-America.’) and Hugo Claus (‘the biggest plagiarist in Flemish literary history). In her opinion, only Gerard Reve, Frida Vogels and JJ Voskuil are worthwhile as writers. But what bothers her most is the attitude of many Dutch people during the occupation. “Only three percent have done something for the Jews,” she says. And in that alone she is right.