Having read quite some dutch literature in the past weeks, in this article I would like to give an overview of my personal top five of dutch literature I have ever read:
1. Harry Mulisch – The Discovery of Heaven
An angel is asked to return the stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments back to heaven. Since the angel cannot travel to earth he starts influencing the lives of three people (Ono, Max and Ada) in order to produce a child that develops a desire to find those stone tablets and return them to heaven. The whole story is told in four parts. In between the parts the angel discusses his plans with his superior.
The story starts with the development of a strong friendship between Onno and Max. A friendship deeply expressed by long and intense intellectual discussions about different facets of life. Both share a love for a girl named Ada and finally share the responsibility of the birth of Quinten. While Ada is in coma when Quinten is born and later on dies, in the last part the boy and Max start a journey to bring the ten commandments back to heaven.
2. Johan Daisne – De trein der traagheid
A man is driving in a train home. He reads a bit, looks outside the window, and somehow sees all the time the same type of landscapes. When it gets dark he falls asleep. When he wakes up again everybody in the train is sleeping. He starts getting suspicious whether he has not taken the wrong train and starts looking for somebody who is awake.
He finds a professor who is also astonished that everybody in the train is sleeping. Even more strange is that both their watches seems to have stopped at the same time: six thirty when both were sleeping. In the train they also meet a young boy who is in panic that he will get home too late. Also his watch stopped running at six thirty.
When the train stops they all three get out. A bit later the train leaves again. They start walking towards the lights in the distance, which they consider to be houses.
Suddenly they start to wonder whether they did not die in a train accident and now are in another world. They reach a bar where nobody understands their language. There are no watches and there is no place name. The professor suddenly start acting strange and after that only stares in front of him.
When they hear a tram all people in the bar start running outside.
While the young boy joins them, the man decides to stay with the professor. After that it is just as if he awakes from a dream. He is lying on a bed and sees a nurse. So it really was a train accident. The professor sits in a wheelchair and is lame. The young boy is dead.
3. Cees Nooteboom – All Souls’ Day
Arthur Daane is a 44 years old documentary maker residing in Berlin, a city recovering from the scarves of its past. Daane has lost his wife and son in a plane accident and tries to keep himself away from depressions by talking for hours to three close friends. In these discussions they cover in an abstract way topics like life and death but all avoid talking about their own worries.
Daan meets Elik Oranje who is working on a thesis about a spanish queen of the 12th century. They develop some kind of relationship in which Elik at regular intervals appears unannounced at Daans place to sleep with him without saying a word to him before she disappears again.
One day Elik leaves for Spain without informing Daan about it. Through her grandmother Daan finds out she is gone to Madrid and finds her there in the archives of the city. After meeting her Daan gets beaten up by mobsters who want to rob his camera after entering the metro station. Only after fourteen days he wakes up again to find his berlin friends around his bed. Also Elik had come to see him while he was asleep, but she has left Madrid already to go to Santiago.
When Daan gets healthy again to travel he decides to give up travelling after Elik and decides to go north – back to Berlin.
4. W.F. Hermans – The Dark Room of Damocles
The main character of this story, Henry Osewoudt, owner of a cigar shop in Amsterdam, at the start of the german occupation gives shelter to Dorbeck, a man persecuted by the german invaders. Besides their hair colour Osewoudt and Dorbeck could be twins.
Through Dorbeck Henry Osewoudt gets involved in the resistance movement. When his wife and mother both get imprisoned by the Germans, Henry Osewoudt has to go undercover and becomes active member of a small resistance group in Leiden.
After some time Henry Osewoudt himself gets imprisoned. For unclear reasons he is declared ill and gets transfered to a hospital. With the help of some strangers Osewoudt escapes from the hospital. He returns to the resistance group in Leiden. Short after that all the members of the resistance group get arrested. Only he and Marianne, a jewish girl with whom he fell in love, can stay out of the hands of the Germans.
Short after that Osewoudt gets arrested again. The germans tell him that Marianne is pregnant. The german office promises to release him when he leads them to Dorbeck. Together with Dorbeck he kills the german officer. Marianne gets a miscarriage and disappears. Osewoudt kills his wife and another german officer.
After the war Osewoudt is considered to be a helper of the Gestapo because of his rather strange escape from the hospital. All people that could testify that Osewoudt was not at the side of the Germans have disappeared or died. His only hope left is Dorbeck. But nobody seems to know who he is. The police starts to think that Dorbeck only exists in the imagination of Osewoudt. Osewoudt tries to develop a picture on which he and Dorbeck are together. The development fails and Osewoudt gets shots by the police when he tries to run away in despair.
5. Harry Mulisch – The Assault
The story tell in five episodes the life of a boy who whose house was burned down and his whole family got arrested and killed after the collaborator Fake Ploeg was killed in front of the neighbouring house and was carried in front of their house by the neighbours.
While the boy, Anton, initially tries to suppress his traumatic memories through fate he meets again some of the personages of that night and starts accepting his past as being some part of himself.
At the end of the story Anton finds out that his family died for the sake of a refugee family that lived hidden in the neighbouring house.