- Paperback: 208 pages
- Publisher: NYRB Classics (14 May 2012)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1590174925
- ISBN-13: 978-1590174920
- Product Dimensions: 12.7 x 1 x 20.3 cm
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 258,841 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Amsterdam Stories (New York Review Books) Paperback – 14 May 2012
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"Today his book's very incompleteness makes it seem whole, and his ambiguity about the 'life of the mind' all the more poignant."(London Review of Books)
'Today his book's very incompleteness makes it seem whole, and his ambiguity about 'the life of the mind' all the more poignant.'(London Review of Books)
This collection of short stories, with repeat characters, explores the ''condition'' of the young male of this period, his hopes and dreams, with a psychological intensity that feels surprisingly fresh and contemporary.(Scottish Sunday Herald)
Earnest fans of Samuel Beckett with a fair knowledge of the topography and street-names of Amsterdam could love this book with a passion.(Sunday Times)
About the Author
NESCIO (1882-1961) was the pseudonym of Jan Hendrik Frederik Grönloh. His reputation as one of most important modern Dutch writers was only established after his death.
Damion Searls is the author of Everything You Say Is True, a travelogue, and What We Were Doing and Where We Were Going: Stories.
Joseph O'Neill was born in Cork, Ireland. He writes regularly for The Atlantic Monthly and his works include the novels This Is the Life, The Breezes and Netherland, winner of the PEN/Faukner Award for Fiction, and the nonfiction book Blood-Dark Track: A Family History. He ives with his family in New York City.
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That quotation is from Young Titans, perhaps the most characteristic of the stories, though it shares the same cast of would-be bohemians as three other items in the book. They sit up all evenings in ill-heated attics, one paints a picture, another writes a poem, they go for long walks in the Dutch countryside: "Every day we longed for something, without knowing what. It got monotonous. Sunrise and sunset and sunlight on the water and behind the drifting white clouds [...] all things I had seen so many times and thought about so many times while I was gone and would see again so many more times, so long as I didn't die. Who can spend his life watching all these things that constantly repeat themselves, who can keep longing for nothing? Trusting in a God who isn't there?"
Perhaps you need to be Dutch to get the most out of Nescio's writing, which is not only place- but culture-specific. Perhaps you need to have come to terms with the predictability as well as the occasional magnificence of all that flatness, to be comfortable with conformity. For Nescio's young Titans become respectable businessmen or, very touchingly in the 1942 story, an unemployed widower living only in the island of his memories. These are stories in which very little actually happens; there is pathos here, but little tragedy. Fortunately, though, there is also a good deal of gentle comedy: in his description of the eternal sponger Japi in The Freeloader, or in the suppressed eroticism of the Little Poet, for whom "the prettiest girls are always walking on the other side of the canal. And so his whole life turned into one long poem, and that can be tedious too."
Joseph O'Neill, the author of NETHERLAND and Dutch raised himself, says in his introduction that "one reads Nescio in the first person plural; his voice speaks to all our selves." I would so much like to agree, but unfortunately I find these fragments easier to admire from a distance than to access for myself.
And once again, NYRB doesn't disappoint.
I have read several of these stories twice. Nescio is a grand master of capturing the angst, the romanticism, the lyrical longing of youth. These are stories about young men about to become indoctrinated into the serious routines of life - finding a job, getting married, having kids and so forth. And still, these are poets and painters, thinkers, philosophers, all of them friends, hanging out, taking long walks in the countryside, wandering through the streets of Amsterdam. They hang out in attic apartments and drink jenever (Dutch gin). They smoke, they tease each other. They feel lost. They're human.
I would say the above description succinctly summarizes the two stories of Little Titans and The Freeloader but Amsterdam Stories is more than what I've just written. Nescio in his works conveys a sense of place and emotion about that very place. Nescio (pseudonym for Jan Hendrik Gröhloh) was born and raised in Amsterdam. In a sense this is his youth, his city he is writing. He became the successful business man. He married and had four daughters. These stories are an elegy to his idealism, to the city he knew before he became successful. New York, Berlin, Paris and Munich have all had their writers, men and women who wrote and gave the world their collected vision of their city. For such a cosmopolitan town as Amsterdam, we have very few internationally known authors who've brought the city to life in literary prose.
Nescio has achieved that. And now, after over 80 years of relative obscurity in the English language, NYRB has brought this slender volume out, a beautiful translation by Damion Searls. Also, an excellent introduction by Joseph O'Neill, author of Netherland.
Read Nescio for all these reasons - for being young and idealistic. Read it for Amsterdam, a city beyond its Red Light District and coffeehouses. Read it because here's a beautiful opportunity to read a masterpiece by a Dutch author. This is beautiful stuff here. These aren't stories but prose poems with characters you know and understand. You love these people because they might be a lot like you or how you used to be.