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Monday, 12 December 2011

What I’m reading

I haven’t read anything for a few months. In fact, I haven’t read anything since “Dance with Dragons”. Until now. I have borrowed some books from a friend of mine, and I was so book- hungry that I started to read them right away. The books are very different. They tell different stories, use different writing styles, and affect the readers in different ways. So here are the books with their reviews.

“My ‘Dam Life. Three Years in Holland” by Sean Condon.
“My ‘Dam Life’ tells the story of Australian author Sean Condon and depicts his life in the Netherlands where he moved with his wife because she got a job. He describes their struggles with getting an apartment, a new job for both of them, and the difficulties in obtaining a visa. It is a personal story, written in diary-style. It is witty, funny, entertaining. Those of you living in the Netherlands would find yourself recognising some of the situations. Then again, the book was written 2003, and since then many things have changed. Also, the facts Condon tries to spread throughout the book, are not entirely accurate: no, Dutch is much closer to German than it is to English. And, neither Grolsch, and especially not Heineken can be considered “foremost beers”. In fact, I should ask the question, whether they could be considered “beers” at all. But this, of course is a matter of preferences.
Also, “My ‘Dam Life” is, while funny, sometimes irritating. Why wouldn’t the protagonist find a job? It seems to the reader that while Sally (Sean’s wife) tries to make ends meet, he just does… not very much, really. OK, so he writes his book, and does some freelance jobs here and there, but it’s her who gets things done.
All in all, “My ‘Dam Life”, while entertaining, should not be read as a travel guide. If somebody’s interested in Dutch culture, they should read something else. This should be read for entertainment only, and then be put on the shelf, and forgotten.

“The Island” by Victoria Hislop
While there are many books about the effects diseases have on people’s lives, “The Island” tackles one of them, that has not found it’s way into literature-apart from the Bible: leprosy. As it was believed to be a highly contagious disease, leprosy colonies were created to keep the ill ones away from the healthy. One of such colonies was Spinalonga, in Crete, Greece.
“The Island” tells the story of young Alexis, who is trying to find out about her family roots. While Sofia, Alexis’s mother never talked about her past, Alexis is passionate to learn about it She sees this an opportunity to sort things out with her boyfriend Ed. During a holiday in Greece, Alexis, armed with a letter from her mother, visits Foutini, her mother’s friend, in the small city of Plaka. There she finds out that she has ties with the former leprosy colony Spinalonga.
Hislop has done a great deal of research on leprosy, and the history of Crete. Her story is extremely interesting and well-paced, her writing style is beautiful without being pompous. It is an interesting read for several reasons. First, it tells the truth about leprosy- that is was not as contagious as it was thought to be. That the inhabitants of Spinalonga, while being separated from their families and friends, and shipped over to the colony, managed to have satisfying lives. Nowadays, leprosy can actually be cured, although it’s still present in the modern world. And then, for me, it’s extremely interesting to have read a book about someone discovering about their families and roots.

“The Discovery of Heaven” by Harry Mulisch
As soon as I opened it, I knew this was no ordinary book. Contrary to the previous ones, which I wanted to finish as soon as possible, here I wanted to cherish every sentence, every word, every expression.
“The discovery of Heaven” tells the story of Ono and Max who are responsible for the birth and upbringing of a rather exceptional boy, Quentin. Unbeknownst to them, their lives are being meticulously planned and managed by a higher Angelic being, so it would lead to Quentin’s birth and the fulfilment of his mission. It’s extremely hard to tell this story. It involves rather interesting narrative twists and turns. It also involves allusions to numerous famous works of arts, artists, writers and scientists. It is also a book about family, politics, fate, religion, art, and so much more. Since it takes place in the Netherlands, it can be considered a book about the Netherlands as well.
It’s a book that will make you think and sometimes it’s downright scary- not horror-like scary, but metaphysically scary. I actually wanted to check every name and every detail in this book to make sure I understood everything about it. I didn’t. But this only makes me want to read this it again. And possibly, again and again and again. “The Discovery of Heaven” is brilliant and a pleasure to read, a must for all literature lovers.

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  1. Mr. Condon, thank you for commenting. Always nice to see what other expats think of the Netherlands.I had great time reading your book, and many times I found myself laughing and nodding my head in recognition. Your experiences you described are downright crazy! No, this is no big literature, but it's funny and entertaining. And sometimes that's all you need.


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