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On the Water [Paperback]

On the Water Hans van den Brink
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

14 Jan 2002

'I am holding on to that summer, not just in my thoughts but with my whole body, from my numb fingers down to my toes. The summer when the river was ours, and so was the boathouse, the city, the meadows and the reeds at the water's edge. Happiness only exists when you can touch it and I held it, I'm still holding it, that summer of 1939, now, here tonight.'

Two young oarsmen are trained as a coxless pair by a mysterious German coach in the golden summer of pre-war Amsterdam. Through the pressure and rapture of physical exertion, teamwork and victory, Anton the shy outsider and calmly self-confident David, forge an intense relationship while the grim developments on the world stage remain at a great distance. But on the wintry eve of Holland's liberation, Anton stands on the bank of his beloved river and mourns a lost world: David has disappeared and the boathouse is now derelict and deserted . . .

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Product details

  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber; New Ed edition (14 Jan 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571209246
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571209248
  • Product Dimensions: 19.2 x 12.4 x 1.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 673,450 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


A novel of extraordinary subtlety from readers and writers alike have much to learn... This is a marvellous book, in every respect. -- Daily Mail, 2001

An impressively sustained evocation of a lost time and lost happiness... A daring first novel. -- Times Literary Supplement, 2001

Rarely have sport and literature combined so seamlessly to produce such an absorbing and satisfying novel as this small miracle of a book. -- The Guardian, 2001

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent Dutch novel, beautifully written. 28 Feb 2002
By A Customer
A dutch boy discovers a passion for rowing on the river alongside which he grew up, in 1930's Holland. As he and another boy are recognised for their talent as a coxless pair, and trained by a mysterious German coach, they set their sights on the Olympic Games due to be held in 1940. Like the river upon which the boys pursue their dreams, the book has many darker undercurrents. It is written almost as a memory of golden days gone by, now swept away by a war-torn Europe. The boys' passion for rowing comes from a passion for the river itself and the freedom it offers them. The river is central throughout the story. The arrival of war is a personal tragedy. This story is much more than a tale of sporting achievement. It mingles such themes as friendship, social isolation, class, coming of age and the despair of war with an inspiring story of two young men, bonded by friendship as well as by teamwork, who find brief but true freedom on the water.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars War story without fighting 3 Oct 2006
In very effective and atmospheric prose, this novel describes the destructive impact of WWII on an Amsterdam rowing club, and particularly on one of its members, a shy but fanatical adolescent, who is hand-picked to become the reluctant star of the club. Despite never mentioning battles, hardship, Nazi's, razzias etc, van den Brink manages to make a very deep and lasting impression, at least partly because of the sharp contrast between the pre-war, dream-like memories and the stark, densly described present. This would make a great script for a movie or play.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.8 out of 5 stars  8 reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The magic of superlative writing 12 Sep 2001
By Grady Harp - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
When an author can create a completely absorbing novel, peopled with finely tuned characters that stir us with tension and competition and longing, a novel that uses as its base a sport that few readers know enough about to connect, then that author has displayed credentials of an impressive talent. ON THE WATER spends alomst every page in the preparation, practice and execution of a two man crew boat. He gradually pulls us into that boat with an understanding of the rules of the game and the rigors of the men who row. Then, subtly and with great tenderness he unveils his two young men of polar diferences and weaves a story of the power of sporting competion and the greater power of finding a soulmate. This bonding between lower class gentile Anton and upper class Jew David is engineered by a German Doctor in 1939. This beautiful story of an exploration of place and love is set in the last summer before Hitler destroys Europe. We are left to guess the fate of David while we discover the solitary wandering Anton who tells the story five years later along the banks of the river where they spent the most beautiful time of their lives. This novel gleams with magical poetry and introduces an author (and translator) who seems destined to find an important role in the 21st Century of literature. Read this book!
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A beautiful, very Dutch book 15 Mar 2002
By Linda Oskam - Published on
Anton lives in a new neighbourhood near the Amstel river in Amsterdam in the 1930's. From his early childhood onwards, the river attracts him and when he is about 14 years' old he becomes a member of the rowing club on the other side of the Amstel. Anton is an outsider: the other member are from higher social classes, his father works in the public transport branch. He is also an outsider in other aspects: he observes the others and doubts himself.
But then one day the eccentric Dr. Schneiderhahn chooses anton and David for the coxless two. In Anton's view David is his very antipole: he is self-confident and outgoing. Slowly but surely the two boys become a perfect team. In the summer of 1939 they start competition rowing and they win one race after another. It becomes more and more apparent that they have a chance to participate in the 1940 Olympics in Finland. At the end of the year they promise each other to go on as a team in the next year.
The book is written as a oppressive retrospective of Anton who finds himself on the pier of the derelict rowing club in 1944. the reader knows what has happened between 1939 and 1944 and the typically Jewish name David strongly suggests that history has not been kind to him. A beautiful book in sensitive prose.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Powerful Physical & Mental Bond!! 1 Aug 2001
By Joseph J. Hanssen - Published on
This was a different type of story that really kept my attention from page one. It takes place in Amsterdam, Holland in 1939 when two young oarsmen train under the guidance of an eccentric German coach in hopes of someday winning the Olympics. Anton, who narrates the story, is from a working class family. David, the other oarsmen in this two man boat with Anton, is an affluent & self-assured athletic young man. The story in beautifully worded images describes the two young men as they become bonded together closer and closer through grueling practice sessions and training to later go on to winning many local races. Anton's description of his obsessive desire to please and do everything perfect for David is almost like a love story and indeed very homoerotic at times. This story is told five years later by Anton as he revisits the now abandoned boathouse. You can tell he is deeply emotional in his remembrances of a time that he describes as "the best summer of his life." You get the feeling this is the most important year of his whole life, too. With World War II now exploding all around him as he remembers, you can feel his tragic lost of youth and happier times.
I felt this was a sensitive and well-written work of literature. There is so much feeling in Brink's writing about this friendship and the time they shared together. I sincerely hope to read more from this Dutch writer in the near future. Highly Recommended!
5.0 out of 5 stars Life is but a dream... 14 Dec 2004
By B. Morse - Published on
Upon opening 'On The Water', I found myself, within the span of four pages, already regretting that I only had 130 left to read.

A magical tale of youth recalled and revisited, H.M. Van Den Brink's story of a young man captivated by the thought of joining a Dutch rowing team is at once compelling and unforgettable.

Anton, the narrator, a slight, awkward boy in WW2 era Holland, enlists in training to compete with a local team. He meets and befriends David, who is friendly, self-confident, outgoing...seemingly all things that Anton is not capable of being.

But on the water, these two are equal...finding themselves acting, thinking, and reacting as one person, when it comes to the sport they both love.

Under the guidance of a slight eccentric coach, who dreams of sending them to into competition beyond their local endeavors, the boys develop a winning synchonicity in their sport, and in their friendship as well.

Books such as this are rare and wondrous to find, though, typically, all too short. The tale weaves back and forth between the training and a re-visit by Anton several years later to the boathouse and river, long since abandoned, although most of the 'action' takes place in the past, in Anton's recollections.

A gem of a book, thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Lyric Novel of Athleticism, Wonderful 12 Aug 2001
By Peter Fennessy - Published on
This is a debut novel and a very fine one at that. Hans Maarten van den Brink has written a lyric story of athleticism and the body, of a love of water and rowing, of how a young man grows to be a friend, a teammate, a champion. The author is observant of nature, the body and humanity, he knows the challenge and joy of sports and can communicate that experience as far as it can be done even to the couch potato. He has a sure choice for words and felicitous phrasing (the translator, Paul Vincent, deserves much credit and praise as well). I look forward to reading more of him
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