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Showing posts from February, 2021

Jac Geurts - "Zwijgende vlakten: een Spaanse wandeling

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  I have just finished reading "Zwijgende vlakten: een Spaanse wandeling" by Jac Geurts. For sixty days in 2016 the author walked alone across the Spanish plains and sierras from the Pyrenees in the north to Cádiz in the south. He didn't reach his destination though. He was forced to return home prematurely when a rare disease paralyzed his legs. In this travelogue the reader accompanies the writer on a journey full of adventures, descriptions of nature, encounters with all kinds of people, and musings on everything from religion to politics. Geurts's Spain is not the Spain most tourists see, this Spain is empty, wild, unruly, and above all silent. I love Spain and I enjoyed reading about a Spain I barely know. I especially liked Geurts's descriptions of the people he met and the conversations he had with them. The book is illustrated with watercolours by Piet Lap. It is unfortunate that these are printed in black and white, because in colour they are so much more

Robert Galbraith - "Lethal White"

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  I have just finished reading "Lethal White" by Robert Galbraith, a pseudonym of J.K. Rowling, who is most famous for her books about Harry Potter. This is the fourth in a series of crime novels featuring private detective Cormoran Strike and his partner Robin Ellacott. "Lethal White" was preceded by "The Cuckoo's Calling", "The Silkworm", and "Career of Evil".  A fifith novel, "Troubled Blood", was published in September 2020. The books were adapted for television and began airing on the BBC as a series in 2017, starring Tom Burke as Cormoran Strike and Holliday Grainger as Robin Ellacot. These films are well worth watching. There are two things I particularly like about this series of books. Firstly there is J.K. Rowling's writing style. It's so easy on the brain! The narrative flows like water in a river and carries you along to the end before you know it. Secondly there are the two main characters Cormoran and

David Mitchell - "Utopia Avenue"

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I have just finished reading "Utopia Avenue" by David Mitchell. He is one of my favourite novelists. I have read and I own all eight of his novels. He is probably best-known for "Cloud Atlas", but the ones I like most are "Black Swan Green" and "The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet". If you grew up in the swinging 1960s, like I did, and were into the fledgling popmusic of those years, like I was, you will enjoy "Utopia Avenue". It tells the story of the eponymous fictional band from its beginning in London in 1967 to its fateful ending in Los Angeles in 1968. I liked the many music, pop culture, film, and history references in the book, which took me back to my teenage years. There are also surprising cameos from well-known artists, like John Lennon, Diana Ross, Leonard Cohen, David Bowie, Allen Ginsberg, and others. "Utopia Avenue" paints a colourful picture of the music industry and life in the 1960s. The characters, especi

Eva García Sáenz de Urturi - "De stilte van de witte stad"

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I have just finished reading Eva García Sáenz de Urturi's "El silencio de la ciudad blanca" ("De stilte van de witte stad") in a Dutch translation by Elvira Veenings. It is the first novel of the La Ciudad Blanca trilogy. I have travelled the length and breadth of Spain, but I have never been to Vitoria-Gasteiz, the capital city of the Basque Country. I must remedy this omission in the future, because judging by this novel it is a beautiful and interesting place. The city forms the background for a story about a series of gruesome killings, which are investigated by a detective who is battling his own personal demons. "El silencio de la ciudad blanca" is a compelling and satisfying novel, which interestingly now and again throws light on the mythology and legends of the Basque country and the sights and sounds of its capital Vitoria-Gasteiz. It was adapted into a Netflix film which is well worth watching. post 31 Jan 2021

Johan Huizinga - "Autumntide of the Middle Ages"

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  I have just finished reading Johan Huizinga's "Autumntide of the Middle Ages", in a new, wonderful English translation by Diane Webb of Huizinga's classic "Herfsttij der Middeleeuwen", which was first published in Haarlem, the Netherlands in 1919. It is a study of forms of life and thought of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries in France and the Low countries. What a joy it was to handle this book: hard cover, printed on nice, thick paper with lots of white, and glorious, vivid illustrations! Its subject is not the easiest to comprehend; I had to stay really concentrated during my reading. This beautiful book was well worth my time though. post 24 Jan 2021

Almudena Grandes - "Het ijzig hart"

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I have just finished reading Almudena Grandes' "El corazón helado" ("Het ijzig hart") in a Dutch translation by Mia Buursma and Ans van Kersbergen. The novel chronicles the lives of two families, a republican and a conservative, from the start of the Spanish Civil War in 1936 to 2005: their lives, their losses and their victories, the choices they make. It reflects the complexities of a war that split families apart, fathers against sons, brothers against brothers, wives against husbands. At a hefty 854 (!) pages, this is truly an epic novel. I found it a compelling read. However, it was hard to come to grips with the enormous cast of characters. Time and again I had to refer to the genealogical trees helpfully provided in the book. Also, the novel could have been shorter: the interesting narrative is often buried under a mountain of unnecessary detail about the lives of the characters. Still, I enjoyed reading "Het ijzig hart", the love story between

Maggie O'Farrell - "Hamnet"

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I have just finished reading Maggie O'Farrell's "Hamnet", which is ostensibly a story about the death of William Shakespeare's only son Hamnet in 1596 at the early age of 11. However, the central protagonist is in fact the boy's mother Agnes, more readily known to us as Anne Hathaway. In 2020 O'Farrell won the Women's Prize for Fiction for "Hamnet". This is a wonderful novel. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I know everything there is to know about William Shakespeare's life, but the author's take on the death of Hamnet, the boy's relation to his twin sister Judith, and the intense feelings of his mother shed a completely new light on this terrible episode in the lives of William Shakespeare and his family. I know it is fiction, but still ... post 10 Jan 2021

Marieke Lucas Rijneveld - "De avond is ongemak"

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I have just finished reading Marieke Lucas Rijneveld's "De avond is ongemak", which tells the story of a family falling apart after the death of a son. In 2020 Rijneveld and her translator Michele Hutchison won the International Booker Prize for the English translation of the book, "The Discomfort of Evening". I enjoyed reading "De avond is ongemak". I first read it in Dutch and then in English, which gave me the chance to savour Michele Hutchison's wonderful translation. Yet, despite, or maybe because of, all the hype surrounding this novel both in the Netherlands and abroad it left me a little underwhelmed. My expectations had probably been too high. post 3 Jan 2021

Robert Harris - "V2"

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I have just finished reading "V2" by Robert Harris. He is one of my favourite novelists.  I have read and I own all 14 of his novels. In my opinion "V2" is not his best. That honorific goes to "An Officer and a Spy", which has the Dreyfus affair in France in the late 19th century as its subject. I also liked Harris's Cicero trilogy "Imperium", "Lustrum", and "Dictator". "V2" is a good read though. In the novel the Nazis' V2 rocket programme is seen through the eyes of a conflicted German scientist and a British female air force officer. Part of the action takes place in a wood near Scheveningen in German-occupied Holland. From here the rockets are launched towards London. post 27 Dec 2020