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[Monday Reading] Falling In Love With Dutch Novelist Cees Nooteboom

"Love is in the one who loves, not in the one who is loved." - Cees Nooteboom, The Following Story

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It's Monday! What Are You Reading

Myra here.

It’s Monday, What are You Reading is a meme hosted by Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers (new host of Monday reading: Kathryn T at Book Date).

While these novels from The Netherlands are not really linked to our #DecolonizeBookshelves2022 reading theme, I know I still need to share them with fellow bibliophiles as books that will definitely make my best reads this year.


The Following Story (Amazon | Book Depository)

Written by Cees Nooteboom Translated from the Dutch by Ina Rilke Foreword by David Mitchell
Original Title: Het volgende verhaal Published by Vintage Classics (2014, first published 1991) Literary Awards: Aristeion Prize (1993), Dirk Martensprijs (1994), Premio Grinzane Cavour, Narrativa Straniera (1994), International Dublin Literary Award Nominee, Shortlist (1996)
ISBN: 9780099582885 (ISBN10: 0099582880) Bought a copy of the book. Book photos taken by me.

I have always believed that stories find us at the perfect moment: perhaps for healing, for clarity, for grace. This was the book I held close to my heart while on my flight from Amsterdam to Abu Dhabi, and I sobbed (with just the right amount of dignity) on the airplane. I had to contain myself as I was seated next to a Dutch man in his early 60s, excitedly sharing with me and my husband his upcoming holiday in Indonesia via Abu Dhabi and Kuala Lumpur – pointing out his printed itinerary, a paper folded many times over, like a child unwrapping a present on Christmas day. I did not feel like explaining why tears were leaking out of my eyes as I breathed this book like so much air that I did not know I needed.

Quite similar to the book I read on my flight from Abu Dhabi to Schiphol – Amsterdam by Ian McEwan – this was a very quick read. There are also infidelities, coming to terms with death, unremitting loneliness, brilliance and passion devoted to one’s craft – but the similarities end there, as I found the Ian McEwan book quite distasteful (see my reflections here).

Cees Nooteboom had this self-deprecating, amused, pensive tone throughout; one that is unafraid of being vulnerable, yet conveyed with such remarkable restraint that everything he wrote can fuse so movingly into whatever is going on in his reader’s life; allowing me the space to grieve. The plot in itself is quite surreal: a man slept in his home filled with books in Amsterdam only to wake up in a hotel room in Lisbon, Portugal – the same exact room he once shared with the love of his life: a married woman angry over the infidelities of her own husband.

Here are some of the lines I found deeply moving:

While the protagonist was speaking of Lisbon, Portugal in the above city – it can also stand for Netherlands, at least for me – or any other place for the reader where “goodbyes” drift like dandelion seeds floating in the air in spring.

I love the quote above, attributed by the protagonist to Plato, as it is a reminder that it doesn’t matter whether other people – or even the object of affection himself – feel undeserving or unworthy or guilty of the love shown; because loving is sufficient unto itself.

I also laughed out loud while the protagonist eviscerated the poetry written by the husband of the woman he loves:

Talk about critique right there. I love it. Cees Nooteboom also knew women – or knew that he would never be able to penetrate their mysteries, no matter how much he tries:

The ending of the story spoke of something else, yet it was layered through different meanings for me that just tore my heart out of my chest, because such is powerful literature – unexpected mirrors in turns of phrases that can serve as million different things to a reader trying to make meaning out of the inexplicable.


Mokusei! A Love Story (Amazon | Book Depository)

Written by Cees Nooteboom Translated by Adrienne Dixon
Published by Seagull Books (2017, first published 1982) ISBN: 9780857424846 (ISBN10: 085742484X) Bought a copy of the book in Amsterdam. Book photos taken by me.

Not wanting to let go of Cees Nooteboom’s voice, I immediately read this book – more like a novella (it is less than a hundred pages) that I bought on sale while in Amsterdam (see my book hunting haul here).

A Dutch photographer fell in love with his Japanese model while on assignment in Japan. Yet it is a love that has no future – no tomorrow – no shared country – just the aliveness of captured moments. The reasons as to why it is a love that cannot be, had not even been examined, because it is how it is. Yet, there is poignance in moments shared primarily because of the enigma engendered by this love that cannot be:

Then there is this:

A woman mythologized is always a scary being. And therein lies the tragedy of it all, isn’t it?

Pair this post with my feature of Ada Limon’s The End Of Poetry here.

Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

1 comment on “[Monday Reading] Falling In Love With Dutch Novelist Cees Nooteboom

  1. Pingback: [Poetry Friday] Enough With Words – Gathering Books

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