Archive for the ‘Local Interest’ Category

You Review: The Miniaturist – Jessie Burton

Wednesday, September 10th, 2014

Reviewed by David Young

It’s late 17th century Holland, and Petronella (Nella) Oortmans’ father dies, leaving large debts which can only be paid off by marrying Nella to the 20 years older Johannes Brandt, a prosperous Amsterdam merchant.

As a wedding present Brandt gives her a doll’s house version of his magnificent Herengracht house, which Nella begins to fill with dolls from a local miniaturist. However from the dolls she receives it becomes apparent that the miniaturist knows a lot about the affairs of the Brandt household – not only that, she is able to predict its future…..

As the sexual activities and proclivities of Brandt and his mysterious and reclusive sister Marin begin to drag them down into a vortex of scandal, Nella finds herself whirled through a series of rapidly escalating crises which threaten the very existence of the Brandt family.

The Miniaturist is a fictionalised biography of actual 17th century people, and the author has done a remarkable job of recreating the atmosphere of the Dutch Golden Age, its febrile money-making, closed social and political circles and prudish mores. What begins as a gentle and intriguing mystery turns into a real high-paced thriller, both superbly handled. You can almost smell the streets.

I found this book so engrossing that while reading it on the train I missed my station – twice! A most promising debut and I look forward to Jessie Burton’s next novel.

You Review: The latest releases, reviewed by ABC customers.

Ebook of The Miniaturist available here.

You Review a Local Author: The Shallow Man books – Simon Woolcot

Thursday, June 19th, 2014

Reviewed by Patricia Kooyman

I’m Dutch so I DO wear jeans. A lot. Almost all the time. And the first time Simon Woolcot voiced his objections to the Dutch preferred way of dressing, in The Amsterdam Confessions of a Shallow Man, he actually made me laugh out loud. Repeating this aversion every other page in a way that is supposed to be funny but is actually exasperating did not.

Confessions… is a rather unromantic novel (I take it) disguised as a blog. It focusses on sex and drugs (sorry, no rock ‘n roll) and bashing the Dutch. All in very plain and factual prose with quite a few more language errors than I had hoped for, from a native speaker. Apparently nine years of living in Amsterdam has not softened Mr. Woolcot’s opinions on the Dutch, but he seems to have adapted to their sloppiness in using languages. On top of that he mangles the Dutch language by (just) misquoting or misspelling nouns and expressions.

But then his description of the ‘circle of death’ Dutch party made me laugh out loud again. And then I read some more about how bad it is to wear jeans. After that I opened up The Shallow Man Guide to Dating the Dutch. Most of the facts I am in a position to verify are certainly true.  Yes, we do wear jeans a lot. Actually, most of the time. But filling a guide on dating with repetition, as if you’re trying to teach kindergarten pupils, does not work for me. Did I mention Mr. Woolcot’s aversion to jeans?

Unfortunately Mr. Woolcot’s sense of humour does not work for me. I hope it does for you, as signed copies might still be available.

You Review a Local Author: Books with an orange connection, reviewed by ABC customers.

Simon Woolcot presented his book at Meet My Book in March.

You Review a Local Author: The Anatomy Lesson – Nina Siegal

Tuesday, June 17th, 2014

Reviewed by Richard Metcalf

Set in 16th century Amsterdam, this highly enjoyable historical novel centers around the genesis of the Rembrandt painting from which it takes its name, The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp. The cast of compelling characters includes Rembrandt himself, as well as the two principal human subjects of the painting – the respected citizen Dr Tulp, and the common criminal Adriaen Adriaenszoon (alias ‘Aris the Kid’), whose mortal remains the good doctor is shown dissecting before a learned audience.

Through this choice of characters, the author evokes the various strata of society in the Dutch Golden Age, and illustrates how – as an artist – Rembrandt is able to navigate between the hierarchies, in the process capturing the heart of the human condition in his paintings.

The Anatomy Lesson is written largely in the first person, using the voices of several different characters, including a present-day conservator working to restore the painting, and the philosopher Rene Descartes, a contemporary of Rembrandt who is known to have visited Amsterdam at around this time. In the reality of the novel at least, Descartes is present at the dissection, and he muses in imagined correspondence on the significance which the work of Tulp and his contemporary physicians might have had for our understanding of the relationship between our physical bodies and our spiritual selves.

It’s not all philosophy and art, however, as the writing is bound by large seams of romance and humor provided by two purely imagined characters: Flora, devoted wife of Aris; and the aptly named Jan Fetchet, who sources the body for Tulp and instigates probably the book’s only laugh-out-loud moment with an absurd parody of a Monty Python sketch (hopefully that’s a teaser, folks, not a spoiler).

The novel is at its most convincing and moving when the author lets rip with her knowledge and experience of fine art, as her fiercely-imagined Rembrandt speaks of his work and of the forces which drive him to paint.

Nina Siegal has produced an entertaining and thought-provoking novel, interlacing serious themes – there are even some meta-textual nods and winks to the subject of (re)writing/painting history – with a pacey, colourful narrative.  In short, well worth a read.

Reviewed by Linda Radwan

The idea of The Anatomy Lesson alone seemed marvelous. When I started reading it, I was already fascinated by the introduction and could not wait to read more. I was moved by the parts in which Aris Kindt was waiting for his execution, I felt like I was there with him and I felt anxious and scared all at once. I pitied Flora but I also admired her for her strength to carry on. I was truly impressed during her conversation with Rembrandt and in that scene I saw how both characters grew. I loved how Rembrandt changed his perspective and how that affected the final painting.

I enjoyed the writing techniques that were used: the name description of each chapter such as ‘The Body’ which was an extraordinary way of bringing the different perspectives into light, the combination of the narrator’s part (at the beginning and at the end of the book) and the story told by the characters themselves (especially when Rembrandt came into view and I could read what was on his mind). The way the characters are described makes them real and it makes the story as real as any historical event.

I do feel like you have to be an art lover to understand some things, especially the detailed descriptions of the painting mentioned in the conservator’s notes.

If art and history is what you love then this book is the perfect combination and it is definitely worth reading. It is clear that Nina Siegal has done a great deal of research to set up such perfect scenes and characters. Well done!

You Review a Local Author: Books with an orange connection, reviewed by ABC customers.

Nina Siegal lives in Amsterdam and is managing editor of Flow Magazine International.

You Review a Local Author: A Journey to the Sea – Francis R. S. Hardie

Friday, June 13th, 2014

Reviewed by Catarina Queiroz

A Journey to the Sea didn’t strike me as an interesting title to start with, and the subtitle A Goddamn Thing or the Unlived Life was too crude for my taste. Nevertheless, after actually reading the book I have to acknowledge that it’s a good combination: The Sea symbolizes the unconscious roots, the depths and the mysteries of the self. If the self never bothers to examine those depths, the pathetic result will be a passive life, an unreal person, an individual that never got around to doing a goddamn thing. Through references to poems, movies, philosophers and poets, this book dares you to reflect on the meaning of your life, or to make your life meaningful, which in the end might turn out to be the exact same thing.

At the heart of Francis Hardie’s argumentation is the Axiom of Maria, an obscure quotation from a 3rd century alchemist: “One becomes two, two becomes three, and out of the third comes the one as the fourth”. Roughly following the interpretation of the psychiatrist Carl Jung, One is the starting point, unconscious wholeness. Two is the differentiation that comes with consciousness or individuality. Three is the effort to solve the conflict or tension between the conscious and unconscious, reaching wholeness again. This resolution is symbolized by Four, which is the same as returning to One. A Journey to the Sea is the journey of the self that goes from passive observer to active entrepreneur of its own life, stepping from conflict to resolution and hopefully reaching wholeness.

Summing things up, I wouldn’t say this book is a masterpiece of existential philosophy, but it has some interesting thoughts and insights into the human condition. If you’re interested in exploring the depths of your being in a witty and somewhat blunt way, with lots of difficult questions and no easy answers, read A Journey to the Sea. You might get bored, or you might get excited with the prospect of actually doing a goddamn thing with your life. Either way, it’s your call.

You Review a Local Author: Books with an orange connection, reviewed by ABC customers.

Francis Hardie presented his book at Meet My Book! in April.  It is sold on consignment at ABC Amsterdam.

You Review a Local Author: How to Be Orange – Greg Shapiro

Tuesday, May 20th, 2014

Reviewed by Elizabeth Joss

How To Be Orange is an entertaining account of Greg Shapiro’s expat life in The Netherlands. Shapiro, a comedian well known for his performances at Boom Chicago Comedy Theatre, Comedy Central and VARA HumorTV, sheds light on the oddities of Dutch culture in his new book.

Not only does he describe hilarious and out-of-the-ordinary experiences but he also highlights his own eccentricities as an American somewhat out of place in the land of tulips and bicycles.

Shapiro’s use of satire is evident from the very subtitle: ‘An Alternative Dutch Assimilation Course’. In fact, the book itself was inspired by his stage show ‘How to Be Orange: Making the Dutch Take Their Own Assimilation Course,’ together with his observations of the Dutch culture over the past twenty years as an expat.

Furthermore, How to Be Orange subjectively touches on many aspects of Dutch culture. Everything from tiny round-lens reading glasses worn by the Dutch to the oddly designed platform toilet is brought to the forefront. Topics include ‘Dutch Culture for Dummies,’ general culture shock, multiculturalism, politics, education and even Dutch customer service.

Shapiro pokes fun at Dutch-isms but he also pokes fun at himself, his own assimilation and also his own use of the language, which he describes as ‘Google Translate Dutch’.

Lastly, the book is filled with amusing photographs of Dutch shop signs, Dutch products, images of general daily life together and even colourful cartoon-like illustrations, all of which make for a light-hearted read.

How to Be Orange concludes with an assimilation exam using similar questions taken from the ‘Nationale Inburgerings Test’ (questions that even the Dutch themselves fail to answer, says Shapiro). You can test yourself at the end, have a good laugh at the answers, and then ponder how well you too have assimilated into Dutch culture.

You Review a Local Author: Books with an orange connection, reviewed by ABC customers.