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Customer reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
4
On the Water
Format: Paperback|Change
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on 3 September 2016
I found the language (or perhaps the translation) a little awkward and stilted so must differ with other reviewers. OK as a quick read but, if you're interested in the relationships that rowing can form, I found 'The Boys in the Boat' much better.
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on 28 October 2014
This brief novel, almost a novella in form and style, is set in Amsterdam in the days leading up to and during World War II and is a highly literate and intelligent book. The plot, such as it is, revolves around one Anton. He is a self-effacing, introspective and awkward teenaged boy. Living with his unimaginative parents in the outer edges of Amsterdam in the late 1930s, he joins the local rowing club and much to his and the reader's surprise, shows an aptitude for the sport under the eccentric tutelage of the German Dr Schneiderhahn. Anton's rowing partner is the self-possessed and wealthy David with whom he forms an unlikely alliance. The reader is never explicitly informed, but it emerges through hints and descriptions, that David is Jewish. So all three of the key characters in the tale are outsiders of one form or another, in a word soon to be blown apart by war. We are also not told that the city in which the novel is located is Amsterdam, but this becomes apparent as the story unfolds.
This is a gentle, undemonstrative book. There is much about the physical character of rowing; the techniques and science, and the pain and rewards facing the participant. Together with the sense of the outsider, the other key leitmotif of this story is water, the flow of the river and by implication, the flow of historical development, leading to the unavoidable conflagration of war.
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on 28 February 2002
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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on 3 October 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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