Verzet (Resist) is a series of 8 chapbooks of contemporary Dutch writing published by Strangers Press. Earlier this week, I reviewed numbers 1-4. Today I take a look at the rest.
5 Resist! – Gustaaf Peek (translated by Brendan Monaghan) 1 essay in defence of communism / 34 pages. Politics. Pass.
6 The Dandy – Nina Polak (translated by Emma Rault) 5 stories/28 pages/the most atrocious cover. I very nearly passed on this as well. (If beautiful covers pull me in, dreadful ones repulse me.) Eventually though, because of the strength of the stories in the other chapbooks, I decided to give this collection of stories about modern relationships in multiple configurations a go. Enjoyable. Yes. A week later. Memorable. Not so much apart from the title story which tells of the rise and fall of a lesbian/ feminist magazine, caused by the infighting of its three leading ladies. Told via the observations of a journalist, we are never really on the inside, just gathering evidence from various press events and interviews. Ascerbic wit flows through its veins à la Devil takes Prada. And then there’s the most gloriously catty sentence, I’ve ever read in my life. One of the ladies has always refused to be interviewed. According to another, she “does not wish to participate in a mediocre, reductive and hagiographic gossip story by a rookie journalist with an inappropriate level of ambition who’s in love with her own adjective-riddled prose and wants to waltz in and pull a Tom Wolfe at our expense.” Ouch!
7 Shelter – Sanneke van Hassel (translated by Danny Guinan) 4 stories/33 pages. This collection begins with the story that resonates with me the most. Carlos is an immigrant. His wife is also from Cape Verde. He makes a living as a bus driver. They have long dreamed of retiring back to the place they still think of as home, but life – as I can confirm – gets in the way of retirement plans such as these.. É doce morrer no mar is the song continually playing in Carlos’s head. Yes it is sweet to die by the sea he thinks as he settles for a reasonably comfortable life in Holland with rain falling on his face. (After all, it is the sea and it is everywhere.) Other stories in this collection also centre on coming to terms (or not) with the place in which you find yourself. City folk move to the country (where real apples grow on apple trees!) Yes, you can see they’ll have issues assimilating, whereas elsewhere, immigrants have adapted surprisingly well, even to the tune of taking out personal liability insurance. In the final story, a homeless man talks of his life on the streets, and of the places where, even in these circumstances he can find shelter.
8 Something Has To Happen – Maartje Wortel (translated by Jozef Van Der Voort) 3 stories / 29 pages This is the tightest collection in the set. It starts with a broken bathroom door and the narrator watching a married couple struggling to communicate with each other. They are grieving for their son who committed suicide in that bathroom, and walking, talking past each other as they do so. Something has to happen to break the deadlock. In the second story, the female narrator, probably the mother, is advised to start therapy. She perseveres but traditional psychotherapy does not help and so she tries a radical alternative. She takes herself to a therapy camp for men. In the middle of a forest, each client/patient (?) is assigned a tree to scream at. The men take to this with gusto. However, it takes quite a while for the female to open up in quite a different way. The third story is the father’s tale, a description of what is really going on inside, while he is putting on a brave face and advising comfort in every day routine to his wife. It is perhaps the most profoundly heartbreaking narrative I have read for a while …
These stories are extracted from Maartje Wortel’s collection Er moet iets gebeuren (Something must happen) which was nominated for the Fintro Literature Prize and the ECI Literature Prize. Such a powerful finale to the Verzet Series. I would love to see all the full collection translated into English.