Boekenweek has arrived!
Today is my turn on the World Edition Blog Tour. I am excited to add my thoughts on a few of the excellent books that World Editions featured during the 2019 Boekenweek celebrations. If you haven’t had a chance, please take the time to visit some of the other bloggers on the tour to read their book reviews and author interviews. It is a treat to be amongst such thoughtful writers.
When asked if I would like to be involved with the Boekenweek blog tour, I was offered a list of books to choose from. The authors were all Dutch and Belgian; authors I was sadly unfamiliar with. I chose to pick both a Dutch (Jaap Robben) and Belgian (Annelies Verbeke) author, to get a taste of authors from both host countries. The better to give that international flair and perhaps gain insight into these different cultures. Both authors were excellent in their own unique ways.
Thirty Days by Annelies Verbeke
Annelies Verbeke made her literary debut in 2003 with her novel Slaap! (Sleep!). It was met with numerous awards and nominations, and solidly placed her on the Flemish literary map. The awards keep coming for this talented author, whose works have been translated in 24 countries.
Thirty Days was published in Dutch in 2015 and translated into English by Liz Waters in 2016. This moving novel delves into racism, refugees, and the human spirit, leaving the reader deeply moved by the main character Alphonse.
“Alphonse is a Senegalese immigrant who uproots his life in Brussels to become a handyman in rural Flanders.”
Verbeke creates a character loved by most of the people he meets in Thirty Days. Alphonse has depth, sensitivity, and a thoughtfulness borne from a caring, if distant, mother. His travels around the world help too. But while most people like and open up to Alphonse as soon as they meet him, that experience isn’t universal. There are those who have issue with him. Those issues stems directly from the colour of his skin.
Thirty Days is a timely novel that scratches beneath the glossy veneer of civilization. Whether it be racism or the prevalence of refugees, society still fails far too many people. Refugees are everywhere today and Verbeke points out that their treatment isn’t always civil. She has done her research, but understands the nuances of contemporary life all too well. The best and worst of society’s mores find a place in her compelling novel, and I warn you, you won’t want this story to end.
You Have Me to Love by Jaap Robben
Jaap Robben is a poet, playwright, performer, and children’s author. You Have Me to Love is his first novel for adults. It was published in 2014 to much praise, and has been translated into ten languages since that time. Currently, it is being adapted into an English-language film.
“On a remote island somewhere in the North Atlantic, a nine-year-old boy looks on helplessly as his father is swept out to sea. Consumed by guilt and paralyzed by his mother’s frantic grief, Mikael cannot bring himself to tell the truth about what happened. As the pair struggle to restore the fragile balance of their isolated lives, the young widow starts to demand the impossible of her only son.”
While the subject matter of the novel is challenging, Robben tackles it with an unexpected beauty. His prose draws you in, even as you watch the events unfold with dread. This year’s theme of The Mother The Woman, creeps in and blurs lines you wish it wouldn’t, but the reader is powerless to put down this beguiling book.
Guilt is a familiar emotion in grief and Mikael struggles with it, especially as he is the only witness to his father’s death. As the years pass, he tries to embrace love and acceptance once more, only to be confronted by his mother’s inability to process her own grief. Add to that the spectre of loneliness—another component of bereavement—and compound it with their remote island home. How is one to find hope?
Readers can only pray that Mikael can find the strength and maturity to combat his mother’s impossible demands. To say anything more, would spoil the plot for readers eager to dive into Robben’s highly-acclaimed novel.
Thank you to World Editions for giving me the opportunity to take part in Boekenweek celebrations. I will keep my eyes open for work from these talented authors in the future and you should too.