By Beth Johnson
In the run up to the Dutch 4 and 5 May memorial activities, I have been reading many Holocaust and resistance stories in both Dutch and English. But I want to make you aware of a book which has just come across my desk. The Girl from Human Street: Ghosts of Memory in a Jewish Family is Roger Cohen’s memoir of his mother and his international Jewish heritage. Cohen is a highly respected, award-winning journalist and the Paris correspondent for the New York Times and I have enjoyed his astute columns for decades. Do have a look – we have it in the shop.
I promised a few weeks ago to review Colm Toibin’s newest book, Nora Webster, the story of an Irish mother who has just lost her husband and is struggling to raise her children alone without succumbing to the expectations those in her village have of widows. In the background, the 1960s are bringing change to the area as The Troubles loom. Toibin demonstrates again his gift of depicting a broad spectrum of small town Irish personalities while detailing the stubborn insistence of Nora to remain who she is – and perhaps to become something more. A many-layered story which avoids cliché and stirs the reader’s heart.
Jenny Offill has received much acclaim for her book Department of Speculation about modern marriage and its challenges. She writes in a deceptively simple style which in the end requires the reader to make jumps in order to grasp the anecdotes and philosophical wisdom which she strews through her story of love and parenthood. This is a novel of allusion rather than a straight-forward recounting of a tale. New in format and very moving.
The next book might have been titled The New Nomads, tracing as it does the peripatetic life of the young Tooly across continents and decades. Tom Rachman’s new book, The Rise and Fall of Great Powers, reminds me of the lives of many expat children today as they seek to discover who they are meant to be after a lifetime of two-year stints at international schools. Tooly’s adult models are flamboyant and eccentric, manipulative, occasionally supportive – but primarily flitting in and out of her life. In her search to find out where she has come from and what her place on earth might be, Tooly’s one anchor is books – and a bookstore! This is an insanely frustrating yet very satisfying read by a brilliant and crazy author who earlier made a name for himself with his debut, The Imperfectionists.
The 23rd Brunetti novel, By Its Cover, written by the Venice specialist Donna Leon, is out in paperbook and as usual, most enjoyable. When valuable antique books disappear from a prestigious Venetian library, Brunetti finds himself learning about the black market for ancient books. A good summer read! The hardback of Donna Leon’s 2015 book is also just out: Falling in Love, a story of an obsessive opera fan at La Fenice.
While in London recently for talks with the British Booksellers’ Association, I stopped in at John Sandoe Books in Chelsea to sample the rich collection of wares in their overfull premises. And discovered a translation of one of The Netherlands children’s classics! Paul Biegel , perhaps the best Dutch children’s author (now deceased), is particularly famous for his story Het Sleutelkruid. Much to my surprise, a small British publisher has had a translation in print since 2007 – King of the Copper Mountains. When old King Mansolain’s heart begins to slow after a 1000 year reign, the Wonder Doctor is sent to fetch the leaves of the Golden Speedwell plant in the hope this will cure the beloved monarch. As the creatures of his kingdom wait, they are exhorted to tell stories to the king to keep his heart beating. Don’t miss this collection of tales!
Beth Johnson is the owner of Boekhandel Van Rossum (Beethovenstraat 32 in Amsterdam) which sells a wide range of Dutch and English books.
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