Friday, June 29, 2018


A while ago, when I taught third-year French to an interesting mix of students in America, I somehow got the idea that it would be fun to read some really good Dutch children’s books in French. I found the first two of Guus Kuijer’s (possibly the foremost Dutch children’s author of the fin de si├Ęcle) Polleke cycle in what are in my view excellent French translations and very much enjoyed reading them. Kuijer is a master in discussing very serious matters for a young audience in a manner that is both serious and playful, no mean feat, as they say.

I could not find the remaining three French Pollekes (although I now see that all five books in the series have indeed been translated), so now that I’m back in The Netherlands, I finally walked into the nearest independent bookstore, Gillissen on de Rijksstraatweg in Haarlem Noord. Polleke was not on the shelf, but the friendly bookseller offered to order it for me. “It’ll be here tomorrow after three o’clock.”

It’s now tomorrow 6:30 PM and I just started reading the third Polleke book, Het geluk komt als de donder. I made it to page 3 and already I have to interrupt my reading to write this little piece. I could not have written all of this introduction, all you really need to know is what Polleke writes (the books are written in the first person, very effectively) at the bottom of that page 3. Here it comes, with my own translation:

Soms lijkt het of er overal oorlog is, behalve hier.
Sometimes it seems as if it’s war everywhere, except here.

“Hier/“here” is The Netherlands, of course, and one only wishes it were true. Amsterdam just got a new mayor, a woman just two weeks my senior and from my hometown, a prominent member of the “green-left” party in The Netherlands. Already not only the Dutch capital, but the whole nation seems to be divided about the new mayor, and in no uncertain terms.

But perhaps this is nothing compared to what’s going on in other parts of the worlds at the moment.

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