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Why did God ever make anyone a little poet October is especially beautiful this year, we live in a golden city, and not for any amount of money, not for a hundred thousand rijksdollar bills would I want to be respectable I d rather just stay who I am, a piece of humanity like this walking right at the edge of the embankment, beyond the trees, stopping and turning around every time, like someone a little confused And it has stopped raining, it hasn t rained for days and I m no longer dreamin Why did God ever make anyone a little poet October is especially beautiful this year, we live in a golden city, and not for any amount of money, not for a hundred thousand rijksdollar bills would I want to be respectable I d rather just stay who I am, a piece of humanity like this walking right at the edge of the embankment, beyond the trees, stopping and turning around every time, like someone a little confused And it has stopped raining, it hasn t rained for days and I m no longer dreaming about wet feet, I m wide awake And definitely confused After twenty years I went back to Castricum and The Resting Hunter was still there but I couldn t see it at first, it was so surrounded by everything The main street looked like a bad haircut and then those darling little apartments everywhere, dear God Where can you still find a nice slender bridge They need to be wide, for the traffic, much too wide for such short bridges Abominations And then artistic too sometimes I ask you As long as they can drive fast What do they know of God s slenderness Do As if I haven t had enough pointless doing Oh they have nothing else, they only are when they do I want to be, and for me to do is not to be Two I liked a lot.The Freeloader is Japi A mooch The story rather quickly put me in mind of Bartleby Which I mean as a high compliment The difference, here, is that Japi, who sponges constantly, nevertheless makes fast friends Bohemians mostly, but still How could you not like Japi, who actually had an office job, and, unlike Bartleby, stopped going He explained You don t know what an office job is like First you go to school till you re eighteen Do you know how many sheep there areTwo I liked a lot.The Freeloader is Japi A mooch The story rather quickly put me in mind of Bartleby Which I mean as a high compliment The difference, here, is that Japi, who sponges constantly, nevertheless makes fast friends Bohemians mostly, but still How could you not like Japi, who actually had an office job, and, unlike Bartleby, stopped going He explained You don t know what an office job is like First you go to school till you re eighteen Do you know how many sheep there are in Australia or how deep the Suez Canal is My point exactly ButIknew all that Do you know what polarization is Me neither, but I usedto I had to learn the strangest things Credited to the inventory account, translate that into French Have a go at that You have no idea, Koekebakker And it goes on for years Then your old man sticks you in an office And you realize that the reason you learned all those things was so that you could wet slips of paper with a little brushMy point exactly.One other thing I learned in this story, and I reprise here for your edification, is that that the term sucked face was already in use in 1910 At least in Amsterdam What you choose to do with this tidbit is entirely up to you, but I thought it was important enough to air.The other story I liked was Little Poet.This story, in particular, had an autobiographical feel The protagonist is a poet who because of circumstances wife and four kids, public obloquy gets a real job that turns into a real moneymaker He s still a poet at heart though, which means his head turns easily to the lovely girl across the tracks He fairly bleeds his amorous soul onto the pages, enough so, that our author writes this Now before I go any farther I should probably mention that my manuscripts too are recopied by mywife, and that she does not see the poetry in this story Coba s flirting is not so terrible, she thinks it s because the little poet was neglecting her The lady on the tram deserved a slap in the face and the little poet too It s strange, in other stories she reads she doesn t think things along these lines are thatbad I think it s because I mthe one who wrote this story Of course she knows there s a difference between the author and Mr Nescio himself, but to her that s splitting hairs It s a difficult situation My domestic bliss is somewhat troubled but stillI ll keep going Class Discussion Topic So, authors and budding authors, you have all these great anecdotes with accompanying self scrutiny from your own rule bending past screaming for story treatment Clearly you have to dothan just call your protagonist Fred to avoid detection Assume that your spouse would actually read what you ve written as I said, for discussion purposes How do you avoid divorce court What else I loved about Little Poet was that God and the Devil have roles They were both scene stealers A nice literary touch In one scene, Dora, on the cusp of becoming a woman, has fallen for her brother in law She spends an afternoon looking at her naked form, wondering And God does too he beheld the tan little bumps above the hollow that was a poem, and the fine hairs that glinted in the sunlight, and he smiled Then he looked gravely back down past his feet at his Rhine winding back and forth between his mountains, and he mused What s going on here How did I let the Germans found another empire Those Prussians In another passage, God is riding the train First class compartment though When he isn t looking out at the passing landscape, he s reading a report which statesMan s fate is to feel regret when he fails to reach his goal and to feel regret when he succeeds There is no consolation in virtue and no consolation is sin Therefore, cheerfully renounce all expectations Place your hope in eternity there is no awakening from this dream My point exactly.The other stories were either fragments, whose placement here was lost on me, or stories of artist wannabes that I didn t find important Sorry Nescio , by the way, was the pen name of J.H.F Gr nloh, a highly successful businessman who wrote anonymously on the side Nescio is Latin for I don t know Now, I have many Goodreads friends who are multi lingual I m not That would make me feel inadequate, except that, unlike yinz, I m fairly conversant in Appalachian Here, I don t know would be spoken as UHN uh uhLike Xhosa, it takes some practice Let s start our walk with crocuses, shall weI think back to last year s crocuses in the parks in Groningen, in the gardens of the villas on the way to Haren, and farther Spring was late last year The crocuses were in full bloom in mid April Yellow, purple, and white, the vanguard of spring And how about weeping willowsShe saw the weeping willow turn yellow, its branches hung down and they reached for the water, they hung in deathly silent yellow adoration over the pond and they saw their Let s start our walk with crocuses, shall weI think back to last year s crocuses in the parks in Groningen, in the gardens of the villas on the way to Haren, and farther Spring was late last year The crocuses were in full bloom in mid April Yellow, purple, and white, the vanguard of spring And how about weeping willowsShe saw the weeping willow turn yellow, its branches hung down and they reached for the water, they hung in deathly silent yellow adoration over the pond and they saw their own yellow light in the water.You are probably surprised that I am starting my review of Amsterdam Stories by Nescio 1882 1962 with flowers and trees The nature and the city Believe me, I was also startled by such a vivid presence of plants Amsterdam, Leidsestraat, 1910.I ve never been to Amsterdam, we haven t met in person yet I ve always imagined the capital of Holland as a picturesque combination of buildings and canals Similar to Venice but slightlysolid and palpable, as if Venice has been painted with watercolours and Amsterdam with oil colours Nescio s sublime descriptions of flowers and trees make the city evenirresistible, though he worries about the inadequacy of words compared to the breathtaking beauty of natureThe birch trunks were silvery white, but prettier than silver Language is poor, fatally poor Who was Nescio His real name was Jan Hendrik Frederik Gr nloh I have never heard before about this Dutch writer who published only three books in his lifetime Amsterdam Stories New York Review of Books, 2012 is a collection of his novellas and short stories, written between 1909 and 1942 We will see in the future if I can recall many details of Nescio s plots but I will surely remember the melancholy and nostalgia which enveloped me all over like a soft, misty cloak The author calls itthe longing, without knowing what forThis cloak has a silver lining though it s Nescio s inimitable sense of humour which helps him to be at peace with the constantly changing world Nescio s philosophy reminded me of the Stoics Like Marcus Aurelius or Epictetus, Nescio encourages us to feel satisfied with who we are and what we have and to observe the world carefully Nescio s characters are similar to fl neurs but instead of walking they sit and contemplate Watching the nature turns out to be especially reassuring and helpful Amsterdam, 1900 1930.Nescio s sadness wasn t a guest from nowhere It had probably fermented in him for years He was a typical idealist, a promising young writer, who buried his dreams to become a businessman He kept writing anyway but used a Latin pen name Nescio means I don t know as he preferred not to risk his career The form of Nescio s works, especially the last ones, is open, even fluid If you like to feel the spine of the story under your fingertips, you might feel disappointed These stories have been woven with loosely connected fragments, glimpses, observations The directions, which his characters thoughts follow, often intersect and some images or phrases are repeated like a chorus, for example Insula Dei or It s thawing The narrator goes round in circles around some topics, at times comes back to those he s already abandoned The capricious and delicate structure of these short stories and novellas reminded me of a cobweb seen against the light Amsterdam, May 11, 1940.Get ready to meet a wide range of characters in Nescio s stories from a teenage wannabe writer to the God of the Netherlands The Amsterdammish freeloaders seem to be an especially intriguing species and you will meet quite a fewThe freeloader you found lying in your bed with his dirty shoes on when you came home late the freeloader who smoked your cigars and filled his pipe with your tobacco and burned your coal and peered into your cupboards and borrowed your money and wore out your shoes and took your coat when he had to go home in the rainThe type might sound familiar Even episodic characters, who appear just for a few seconds, are remarkable, like the old man, wearing a pince nez and a bowler hat, who says There are only five things worth bothering about, and I list them here in order of importance Amsterdam, early spring, the last ten or fourteen days of August, women, and the incomprehensibility of God From most to least importantNumber one on this list, Amsterdam, is not just a mere setting of Nescio s novellas and stories It seems to be like a protagonist itself reflects characters moods and provokes musings.In the preface to Above the Valley the author saysit would please me greatly to think that you too can t get enough of AmsterdamNow I wantof Amsterdam, Mr Nescio I wantAmsterdam, 1900 1930. Introduction, by Joseph O Neill The Freeloader Young Titans The Writing on the Wall Out Along the IJ Little Poet From an Unfinished Novel The Valley of Obligations The End Insula Dei Notes Brilliant, captivating, scintillating with wry humour beyond the usual cynicism,like an enlightened comical view of a tragedy , and tranquil resignation regarding the purpose of man s existence.Here are some of the remarkable quotes from this excellent piece of literature a The FreeloaderFor the earth everything was simple enough It just turned on its axis and followed its course around the sun and had nothing to worry about But the people on it fretted out their days with troubles and Brilliant, captivating, scintillating with wry humour beyond the usual cynicism,like an enlightened comical view of a tragedy , and tranquil resignation regarding the purpose of man s existence.Here are some of the remarkable quotes from this excellent piece of literature a The FreeloaderFor the earth everything was simple enough It just turned on its axis and followed its course around the sun and had nothing to worry about But the people on it fretted out their days with troubles and cares and endless worries, as though without these troubles, these cares, and these worries, the day wouldn t turn into night Do Nothing All you people are so pathetically sensible everything needs a reason and a purpose I m going to Friesland, not to do anything, not for anything No reason Because I feel like it b Young TitansPaint two horizontal stripes, one on top of the other, same width, one blue and one gold, and then put a round gold bit in the middle of the blue stripe We ll write in the catalog 666 The Thought, oil on canvas And we ll submit it under my name Johannes Bavink, Second Jan Steenstraat, number soand so, and we ll price it at eight hundred guilders Then you can just sit back and see everything they come up with They ll discover all sorts of things in there that you didn t have the slightest idea of You think I m drunk I did indeed It doesn t matter, Koekebakker, when I m sober I don t understand anything anyway God s throne is still unshaken His world just takes its course Now and then God smiles for a moment about the important gentlemen who think they re really something A new batch of little Titans are still busy piling up little boulders so that they can topple him down off his heights and arrange the world the way they think it should be I sit there aimlessly, God s aim is aimlessness.But to keep this awareness always is granted to no man.c The Writing on the WallAgain the longest day was past The days were getting shorter it was still barely noticeable but we knew it was happening, this summer too would pass Again the day came to an end, again the bright red above the horizon grew pale, the water in the distance kept its color, but barely, darkness crept up everywhere, out of the earth, now the canal in the distance had vanished in the night We were gloomy about all the things that had passed, and about our lives, which would end while all these things continued to exist We would see the days get longer a fewtimes, then we wouldn t be young any And after that, when the chestnut trees had blossomed red or white a fewtimes, we would die, in the prime of our lives or maybe as old men, which would be even worse And the sky would be red again and the canal would still be there too, most likely, gold in the twilight, and they wouldn t notice any difference.d Out Along the IJAnd then we thought of the spring to come, after this winter, and we felt immortal again and not the least bit sad, not any.e Little PoetBellum transit, amor manet Man s fate is to feel regret when he fails to reach his goal and to feel regret when he succeeds There is no consolation in virtue and no consolation in sin Therefore, cheerfully renounce all expectations Place your hope in eternity there is no awakening from this dream These were truly strange times It couldn t end well And now he d gone and said that a new age had dawned The age of Ironic Dilettantism was over, a new age of Trailblazing Optimism and Dynamic Vigor had begun.To be a great poet, and then to fall When the little poet thought about what he actually wanted most of all, it was that To astound the world, just once, and to have just once an affair with a poetess He thought this thought again and again, for years, he was so na ve.Why did God ever make anyone a little poet God carries us up to the heights only to hurl us back down again The path over the summit is short but the valleys are long Anyone who has been to the mountaintop spends the rest of his days in misery.But he understood himself all right, it was horribly clear to him, and that is why nothing happened He looked at her and the poet in him worshipped her and raised her up to the throne alongside the God of heaven and earth and he didn t dare touch her.And at the same time, deep inside the little poet, the wild animal crouched, ready to pounce and devour all the things that taunted him, everything that stood around him and walked past him and didn t notice him First of all, her the beautiful, the beloved, first so that there would be no reason not to devour everything else To lift her up as high as the stars in the winter night and do his worst with her and then let her fall down into the unfathomable deeps To avenge upon her, in his pleasure, the whole world s taunting indifference And besides, what would a little poetess wantthan to fall like that f From an Unfinished NovelThey endlessly make art, dead literature and other dead works of art, and it doesn t seem to kill them either.October is especially beautiful this year, we live in a golden city, and not for any amount of money, not for a hundred thousand rijksdollar bills would I want to be respectable I d rather just stay who I am, a piece of humanity like this walking right at the edge of the embankment, beyond the trees, stopping and turning around every time, like someone a little confused And it has stopped raining, it hasn t rained for days and I m no longer dreaming about wet feet, I m wide awake And definitely confused.g The Valley of ObligationsI sit on the hill and look down into the valley of obligations It is barren, there is no water, there are no flowers or trees in the valley A lot of people are milling around, most of them drooping and misshapen and constantly looking down at the ground Some of them look up every once in a while and then they scream They all die sooner or later but I don t see their numbers decrease, the valley always looks the same Do they deserve anything better I stretch and look up past my arms at the blue sky.I stand in the valley on a slag heap next to a small pile of scrap wood and a broken wash kettle And I look up and see myself sitting up there, and I howl like a dog in the night.h The EndYou create a world of your own, you reject this and take a close look at that, you discover, you add , and finally you see that it is good And then the disintegration starts, slowly at first, you barely notice it and don t realize what s happening What you ve worked so hard to make your own what you love disappears or changes into something unrecognizable landscapes and waterscapes, roads, bridges, buildings, villages and cities, people too They don t ask you first, they just do it.So you re wrong if you think Oh, good and hurry to start reading The terrible disintegration won t matter to you, it won t touch you at all.Suddenly the man sitting across from me says There are only five things worth bothering about, and I list them here in order of importance Amsterdam, early spring, the last ten or fourteen days of August, women, and the incomprehensibility of God From most to least important Everything went so differently from how we thought That the world didn t care much about us we all understood that a long time ago But we still thought, for a while longer, that it was up to us to make the silent course of things take their course.The man across from me says that he and that silent course of things have nothingto say to each other Laugh at it and hit back Other than that, God only knows His high bony forehead has two very sharp planes He says in his Amsterdammish Thebarbarians the better, as far as I m concerned i Insula DeiThey stand there stoic and resigned, we have learned how to be stoic I m not pathetic I am an island We already know how each other s life has gone We don t need to talk about the war we ve looked each other in the eye a couple of times We only need to sit quietly and the past rises up between us and spreads out all around us, we see the faces, we hear the voices, we see the endless meadows, we see the house fronts and the rivers and streams, the water splashes, if we listen closely we can hear the creeks too, burble burble, a cow is standing in the creek, we see the leaves on the trees We sit out in front of the little caf s on the market squares and we wait on the ferry causeways, hands on our bicycles God is often incomprehensible His incomprehensibility is never far away Just think about the snow that day when we ran into each other last week And the neighborhood I think about these eventful times You want to do something, make a difference But these aren t the first eventful times I have lived through and if I m granted evenyears then with God s help I will most likely get to my third war The silent course of things takes its silent, implacable course, the little man who is a hero today will tomorrow, when peace comes, be scolded in his stupid little job or maybe won t have a job at all and will turn back into the useless piece of clockwork he used to be And if he has a littleto him, maybe he will read the first chapter of Ecclesiastes All things are full of labour man cannot utter it Eventful times What remains from Italy s eventful times in the thirteenth century except Dante s Inferno Do As if I haven t had enough pointless doing Oh they have nothing else, they only are when they do I want to be, and for me to do is not to be There are so many things I did wrong, he says Who hasn t I ask.He props his elbows on his knees, props his head on his hands again, and looks at me like that Then he shakes his head No, not just some things I did everything wrong And treated people badly And why For nothing, for a figment of the imagination A figment of the imagination I say Is there anything else in life Actually, 4.5 starsWhat a welcome change of pace Nescio was the pseudonym of Jan Hendrik Frederik Gr nloh 1882 1961 , a pseudonym he felt was necessary to protect his career at an Amsterdam import export house at least until 1929 , where he spent 33 years of his life and where he rose to be the director of the firm But this was no life story like that of his contemporary Charles Ives, who was satisfied with his career as insurance executive and used most of his free time to write idiosync Actually, 4.5 starsWhat a welcome change of pace Nescio was the pseudonym of Jan Hendrik Frederik Gr nloh 1882 1961 , a pseudonym he felt was necessary to protect his career at an Amsterdam import export house at least until 1929 , where he spent 33 years of his life and where he rose to be the director of the firm But this was no life story like that of his contemporary Charles Ives, who was satisfied with his career as insurance executive and used most of his free time to write idiosyncratic music ahead of its time It is fairly clear that Gr nloh did not want his career, but by the age of 30 he had 4 young daughters and a wife to take care of However, he also didn t really want to be a writer, either, for he published little, even after he retired at the age of 55 Like one of his best known characters, he wanted to be, not to do.But the little he graced us with leaves me regretting that he didn t feelstrongly the calling to be a writer For the short stories and sketches selected and translated by Damion Searles for this book, including all of the stories published in his first book 1918 which can be found in the original Dutch on the Project Gutenberg site, are charming, lively, melancholic and wry With no sign of the drive to impress evinced by some of our contemporary authors, Nescio artfully tells his stories with a light touch He is regarded as an admirable stylist in the Netherlands, which is why I readDe uitvreterthe first story in this collection in Dutch I succeeded only in confirming once again that understanding what is written is a long way from grasping literary quality There is no sign of linguistic fireworks, and it flows very nicely More than that I can t say at this point.So back to the translation, which also flows nicely and captures Nescio s wry humor and quiet sadness which occasionally breaks out into loud despair see below What comes through clearly is an unmistakable voice, one you want to hearof and regret when it stops its amused and sad narration.About what, you ask.The collection opens with The Freeloaderuitvreterloafer, sponger This tells of the interactions of a group of young men, of which the primary characters are three a self tormented painter, the freeloader and the first person narrator, who is a writer of sorts At first irritated by the freeloader s shameless sponging, the other two become fascinated by his free spirit and his manner of living totally in the moment But the freeloader is ground down, though most of the grinding takes place outside of the view of the narrator We are left speculating about the details.In the next storyTitaantjeslittle titans, translated by Searls as Young Titans , which, I think, misses some of the irony , the same group of young men appears again, without the freeloader This time they are a typical bunch of 19 20 year olds, us against them all , disparaging all they find before them and anxious to change the world, though exactly how and in what manner are not too clear to them Gr nloh aptly sketches this time of life and I, at least, at a safe distance from that period of my life, laughed aloud here I suspect that those going through that time of life would not crack a smile Oh, we took our revenge, we learned languages they had never even heard of and we read books they couldn t even begin to understand, we experienced feelings they never knew existed.So right Do you remember I can t help but contrast these healthy sentiments with theanomie of the young people in Tao Lin sTaipei , to mention but one example.But life has a way of taking young people and changing them, changing them into something they never dreamed they would become for the better, for the worse Often, one really can t judge from the outside The narrator tells the story 10 years after this time of inchoate hopes and dreams has passed, and sobering glimpses of the eventual outcomes of these people are allowed The narrator finds a kind of peace God s aim is aimlessness In the next line But to keep this awareness always is granted to no man His view is anti modern life is eternal, unchanging cycle apparent changes are superficial, negligible Individual lives go through huge changes life itself never changes Gr nloh finds consolation there.Not wanting this review to become all too long, I won t say anything about the remaining stories not even the nearly perfect Little Poet and close, instead, with these remarks The strains caused by the disparity between his nature and the demands of his profession were intense enough to cause a nervous breakdown in 1927, resulting in a short hospitalization But they also manifested themselves in the following brief text, The Valley of Obligations 1922 I sit on the hill and look down into the valley of obligations It is barren, there is no water, there are no flowers or trees in the valley A lot of people are milling around, most of them drooping and misshapen and constantly looking down at the ground Some of them look up every once in a while and then they scream They all die sooner or later but I don t see their numbers decrease, the valley always looks the same Do they deserve anything better I stand in the valley on a slag heap next to a small pile of scrap wood and a broken wash kettle And I look up and see myself sitting up there and I howl like a dog in the night.I ve been there, but only as a young man, occasionally Gr nloh was 40 when he wrote this Well, he had a long, long retirement and spent uncounted hours walking through his beloved Dutch countryside, just looking and being At his death a journal of his hikes was found and has been published in fact, nearly every scrap of his writing has been published, because the Dutch have taken him into their hearts , and I am intrigued, because when he described the countryside, the sky and the sea in these stories the intensity of his attention markedly increased I m afraid I might just have to hunt down nearly every scrap of his writing, too I love this guy He s so humble, so understated, so unhistrionic, but what comes through to me at least is a palpable sadness You might even say a cosmic sadness, in that he s aware of his smallness and his characters smallnesses in relation to forces they only fool themselves they can fight And it s powerful, so powerful that despite his beautiful words and images I m almost glad he published only these hundred odd pages in his lifetime, becausewould be heartbreaking In his quiet wa I love this guy He s so humble, so understated, so unhistrionic, but what comes through to me at least is a palpable sadness You might even say a cosmic sadness, in that he s aware of his smallness and his characters smallnesses in relation to forces they only fool themselves they can fight And it s powerful, so powerful that despite his beautiful words and images I m almost glad he published only these hundred odd pages in his lifetime, becausewould be heartbreaking In his quiet way he s almost another Akhmatova, sensitive and alert and destined to write but shaped by world events into a kind of writer he might never have imagined There s an irony in his giving up his bohemian life to be a bourgeois, then being reduced to ersatz coffee and counting his last cigars as the Second World War sets in just when he d retired and thought he d earned his luxuries But he doesn t hit you over the head with it Nor does he wax too nostalgic for past times Other reviewers have emphasized this the romantic look over one shoulder at the past But I read itas tragedy Even the young titans planning their takeover of the future struggle to believe in their plans The seeds of their failures are there from the start.I liked these stories equally I could start reading at any page and be enthralled but I thought the machinations with the devil and the young husband and wife in Young Poet were particularly strong Then the little poet looked up at the window across from him in the streetcar The houses were all dark, and the ladies reading this know perfectly well that in such circumstances you see all the passengers in the streetcar reflected in the little window, outside.The contemplative eyes of the little poet then looked straight into the contemplative eyes of Clara, the dazzling, which looked as though they knew something very special, but that was just an illusion For a moment, the four contemplative eyes grew bigger anddazzling, then the little poet lost his nerve, he was a well behaved young man after all, even if there were such strange meanderings in his never ending poem, and he looked at the brown fabric and black fur and at the vague shape of her legs under her suit and then wrenched his gaze toward a dairy outside And so the little poet poetized away at his never ending poem and even the silliest woman could poetize along with him But they couldn t be together And maybe that was what made it so beautiful.On to the little poet s wife Coba is sitting at an outdoor table at the Beursbengel cafe Her little girl is sitting across from her In the corner sits the devil, twisting the ends of his moustache I once heard a woman, a high minded, principled woman, say A man like that, what does he take me for Does he think I ll fall in love with him just because he tugs at a wisp of hair Bah Don t trust this woman too much Now she s lying awake at night clenching her wet pillow between her teeth.At times, there seems little imagination in these stories They re like memoirs, with a single cast of characters that I presume are based on real people Little Poet is something else the most fictional of the lot but its world is so familiar from the others that its easy to see the autobiography in it Given such material, it would have been easy for Nescio, self proclaimed hater of important gentlemen turned important gentleman, to turn on his younger self and proclaim a higher set of ideals from his new position of privilege To me, he got the balance right He s mocking, but gently so He offers no answers besides those his younger self might have offered, but in the beauty of his prose he affirms somethinghumility, decency, abiding love of nature And by refusing to put anything but his very best efforts into his work, he actually gives meaning to his self denial, beyond the earning of an income to support his wife and children Seen in this light, it s a discipline Don t waste words, Nescio, time is ticking A small, unique classic I won t give it a perfect score because I can t yet tell if we ll be familiars Or maybe I m scared we are already No, un fortunately I feel I ve never grown up Nine stories from an underappreciated Dutch scribe with a melancholic and tender sensibility Early works The Freeloader and Young Titans were the most affecting for me, with later pieces Little Poet and Insula Dei a little too scattershot in approach to be wholly satisfying The remaining stories are slight sketches or incomplete fragments A fittingly gloomy but hopeful end to 2012. Engagement Alienation To appreciate Nescio, I suggest it s helpful to compare him with his English near contemporary, Henry Green Nescio might well be considered the Dutch Henry Green orprecisely Jan Hendrik Frederik Gr nloh is the Dutch Henry Vincent Yorke Both were businessmen who were also authors of some remarkable prose beginning in the 1910 s and 1920 s Although Green was farprolific, Nescio like Green was a stylist interested in the perplexing details of everyday life Engagement Alienation To appreciate Nescio, I suggest it s helpful to compare him with his English near contemporary, Henry Green Nescio might well be considered the Dutch Henry Green orprecisely Jan Hendrik Frederik Gr nloh is the Dutch Henry Vincent Yorke Both were businessmen who were also authors of some remarkable prose beginning in the 1910 s and 1920 s Although Green was farprolific, Nescio like Green was a stylist interested in the perplexing details of everyday life Both, perhaps because of their dichotomous lives, are primarily concerned with the idea of duty, that is the implicit obligations orplichtenthat most of us respond to or are trapped in, depending on mood Nescio and Green both use dialect extensively, which is unfortunately untranslatable in either direction Green writes about the s of the English country house, upper class snobbery and working class woes Nescio isnarrowly focused on the bourgeois smugness of a muchcompacted class structure in Holland This he finds as tedious as the orderly and unvarying Dutch landscapeAnd the tide came in and the tide went out the water rose and fell Every night the limping harbormaster came and first he lit the green light on Noorderhoofd, the breakwater, then he came back down and then he had to go around the whole harbor and then you saw him by the tower again and then he opened the wooden gate and climbed the wooden steps and lit the light in that tower too And then Japi said Another day, bossGreen tends toward description not evaluation His characters aren t trying to prove anything They may be eccentric, but they are aren t counter cultural Nescio s, on the other hand, could be proto hippies a taste perhaps of what Amsterdam would become famous for a half century laterNo, Japi said, I am nothing and I do nothing Actually I do much too much I m busy overcoming the body The best thing is to just sit still going places and thinking are only for stupid people I don t think either He had just one wish to overcome the body, to no longer feel hunger or exhaustion, cold or rain His characters agonise over their apparent conformity to the ethic of work, responsibility and achievement One way or another society wins, however.Youth is consequently not a happy time in Nescio s Amsterdam Perhaps it never is anywhere Society is oppressive, unlike in Green where it simply is Dutch youth are portrayed as frustrated idealists who aren t sure about their idealsWe were on top of the world and the world was on top of us, weighing down heavily As office workers, they resent the wealth they see around them and the authority it exerts over them For Green, young Birmingham factory workers are realists who recognise the world is changing, but largely without their help They have no ambition to be other than they are except respected by authority and paid decently Unlike the Dutch, they are comfortable with their social status.The Dutch and the English seem woke to use the latest term for social awareness in entirely different ways in the works of the two writers The Dutch are remarkably modern their conversations might be perceived as taking place today rather than a century ago Although they are poor, they are cosmopolitain, travelling from one end of the Dutch speaking world to the other and speaking other languages as if in defiance of their own culture The English are parochial and provincial regardless of class Except for some gentry, they do not travel, not even around their own country They are entirely unaware of events outside their cultural world.If I were fifty years younger, I might want to pursue this further As things stand though, I think I ll let the suggestion lie fallow Perhaps some young aggressive scholar might pick it up ^FREE BOOK ⇨ Amsterdam Stories ↡ No one has written feelingly and beautifully than Nescio about the madness and sadness, courage and vulnerability of youth its big plans, and vague longings, not to mention the binges, crashes, and marathon walks and talks No one, for that matter, has written with such pristine clarity about the radiating canals of Amsterdam and the cloud swept landscape of the Netherlands Who was Nescio Nescio Latin for I don t know was the pen name of JHF Groenloh, the highly successful director of the Holland Bombay Trading Company and a father of four someone who knew than enough about respectable maturity Only in his spare time and under the cover of a pseudonym, as if commemorating a lost self, did he let himself go, producing over the course of his lifetime a handful of utterly original stories that contain some of the most luminous pages in modern literature This is the first English translation of Nescio s storiesContents The freeloaderWhen we were titansThe writing on the wallOut along the IJLittle poetFrom an unfinished novelThe valley of obligationsThe endInsula dei