Monthly Archives: August 2013

JANE’S BOEKENTIPS

INSTRUCTIONS FOR A HEATWAVE by Maggie O’Farrell

It is 1976 and there is a heat wave in London. Robert Riordan left his house one morning to get the newspaper and never came back. His wife, confused and frightened by this event, calls her adult children to help her in this strange crisis. Each of her three children have significant dramas of their own and they all gather to solve this mystery.

O’Farrell does a great job of giving us really interesting characters in an unusual situation and then mixing it up with the horrendous heat, the troubled time of the 70’s (as the family is Irish) and the fact that there is no Internet to search for the father. This all works so well that you just keep turning page after page to find out more about these people and to see how the family drama is unraveled.

A really entertaining read. This is O’Farrell’s sixth book and the first one that I have read, it sure does make me want to read her others.

THE STORYTELLER by Jodi Picoult

It has been at least ten years since I have read a Picoult book. I have not been interested in her previous books, but I am in the minority. Picoult is very popular and very successful around the world. At the library, once we knew that she had a new book out, we just automatically ordered a lot of copies. We did not need to know more than Picoult had a new book, it was just enough to know how much in demand her books were.

In her latest book, THE STORYTELLER, Picoult goes from current day to the second world war. The reviews were very impressive and I think they were the best of her career. I was intrigued by the praise and the plot, so I decided to check out. I got the book with some hesitancy, as I was not convinced that I would enjoy it. I am happy to say that I really loved this book.

Sage is a young woman with a scarred face and she has a life that supports her need for keeping hidden. She is a baker, so she works at night and has a very limited social life. She meets an older man, a respected retired teacher, and they form a unique bond. Their friendship leads Sage to start asking questions of her grandmother, a Holocaust survivor, and a woman we get to know as the book then focuses on her experiences in Auschwitz. All of this places Sage in a the position of a moral dilemma and it forces her to come out of hiding, in many different ways.

I could not put this book down, the story is gripping and there are many emotional ups and downs. And you care about these characters and want to know how “they are going to turn out.” If you are a Picoult fan, then you do not need to be encourage to read this novel. If you are not familiar with her work, this might be worth a try. What have you got to lose?

Recommended viewing: I hope that all of you are enjoying BROADCHURCH on BBC America, that is one of my favorite series of the year. On September 8, on PBS (in the United States) there is a wonderful new six part series starting: LAST TANGO IN HALLIFAX. This is a fabulous, modern story about two families from opposite ends of England and it is also a great love story too. The series was a big hit in the UK, and it has already been renewed for a second season.    

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SHOPAHOLIC

I have written about a variety of traditions that are different between The Netherlands and America, but there are some that are the same. Like back to school shopping.

We recently went to a big mall in the city of Amstelveen to get some clothes to for our pre-teen boy and our teen age girl. We went to this mall as it high a variety of big name stores and the kids are now completely aware of brand names. Plus, we hoped that these high end stores would have some great back to school sales.

I must confess that this is not the kind of day trip that I have enjoyed in the past, I do not enjoy visiting malls and going in and out of stores. I did not like doing this as a teenager, and that has not changed. But all in all, this was not a bad experience. We were there for three hours and by the end, we were all feeling done in. As I said, put a fork in me now, I am done.

The kids are like laser beam shoppers. They know what stores are good for them, they know the little corners where the sale items are kept and they are familiar with all the different types of dressing rooms. I got to practice some of my Dutch and actually asked the store clerks for information, and they actually understood me, which is amazing to me.

This day reminded me of my shopping experiences many years ago. When my mother would take my sister and I clothes shopping, we always did the same thing when we got home. We had to put on a fashion show for our Dad. He would sit in his big chair and we would parade in front of him wearing our new outfits. He would give us some kind of feedback, and I honestly cannot remember any fashion raves or insults, but we got to show off what we had been doing for the last five hours. Then all the tags were cut off and the clothes were put away for the biggest day of the year—the first day of school.

My second memory is of a specific day when my mother and I went shopping at a mall. My mother and I had very different taste in clothes and so it was always a battle of wills to see who was going to win. But for my mom, I think she loved the idea of going out with me and having some fun at the mall. And she was always a fun person to be with, even if it meant looking for clothes. On this day, I was now a teenager and finding myself growing up in ways that I did not really understand. There was a part of me that wanted to still call her Mommy and there was another part that just knew that I had to call her Mom. As we walked along, in this mall, she took my hand and said something like, “isn’t this fun?” I remember pulling my hand away not because I did not like holding her hand, but I was afraid of being caught. What if someone from school spotted me holding my mother’s hand?! My social standing in the school would be devastated by this. I felt bad that I pulled away from my mom, and I knew that she was disappointed and maybe even hurt. I told her that I was too old for hand holding, that I was a teenager now. She had always told us that we would always be her babies and that age had nothing to do with it. I just remember walking side by side with her and knowing we would not walk hand in hand again.

And now, many years later, I have a daughter and a son, who are 13 and 12 years old. As we were walking out of Uncle John’s hospital room, our daughter took my hand and we walked like that for quite a while. This is something she has rarely done, so it stood out to me. On the other hand, our son has been holding my hand for years and he is the one who always reaches for my hand. But I have been emotionally preparing myself for the day when he would no longer do this, that he would do to me what I did to my mother. I know that it is very normal behavior and part of growing up, but I just love his little hand in mine.

On this day of shopping, he slipped his hand in mine. Over and over again, he held my hand as we walked along the shops. He would be talking to me about Calvin Klein, Hugo Boss, Ralph Lauren and Nike and he still held my hand. At one point, his sister was far ahead and I said “you can go walk with her, I don’t want to slow you down.” He said “no, I want to be with you. This feels good to me.” And so we walked on and you could possibly see the glow from my heart.

If I could take a moment back and reverse my actions, I would have held onto my mother’s hand and said the same thing to her…”this feels good to me.” Because, in all honesty, it felt awfully good.

Recommended viewing: a wonderful Australian film called THE SAPPHIRES. This is about four young women who start a singing group in 1968. A great story and a fabulous soundtrack.   

DEPARTURES

In the last post, I wrote about the personal loss of our dear Uncle John. I want to share with you my observations about the differences between two countries and the way that funerals are handled. Honestly, there are more similarities than differences, but there are just a few that do stand out.

In many countries, you have the option of purchasing funeral insurance where you pay a small monthly fee. But the difference is that in The Netherlands this insurance does not just cover expenses, it also does all the work. These companies take care of all the preparations for the funeral and are not just there to provide cheaper rates. When you have purchase insurance and eventually die, your family will meet with a representative from the company and make all the plans together. This representative will then take care of everything, from the funeral home, the church, the casket, the obituary and the burial or cremation. This company takes care of the whole thing, so that the family does not have to deal with all these individual worries. If you do not have funeral insurance, then you will go directly to the funeral home and pay full price. The interesting twist in this country is that the company does all the work, IF you have insurance.

The formalities are pretty much the same: calling hours and a church service. If you are having a cremation, you can have an extra service (which is what we had with Uncle John). This was the final step in our two days of “mourning” and it was quite personal and moving. The calling hours are similar to the ones in America. It was held in a large room, where there was an open casket and the family stood to one side to greet all the visitors. Once people had been greeted, they could sit down and have a cup of coffee and tea. Most people stayed the full time visiting with friends and sharing stories. This also gave the family a good chance to have long chats with friends. The next morning was the church service and from there people drove to the crematorium. There was a theatre where we all faced the casket, but this service was all about the family sharing their personal stories and hearing music that reflected Uncle John. This was very emotional and it just seemed so perfectly done. At the end of this service, people were invited to another room to have drinks and sandwiches. Once again, people had a chance to visit and to greet friends and family. All of this was taken care of by the insurance company, the planning and the expenses. This was all part of the “package”.

The most unique thing about Dutch funerals are the invitations. People receive a printed invitation in the mail and that is how they know about all the ceremonies and dates. There is a paid obituary in the local newspaper, but as is the Dutch custom, most people do not come to a funeral without getting an invitation. The invitations are professionally printed and naturally, have to be done very quickly. The family is responsible for addressing the envelopes and getting them to the mail box in time. There are special discounted stamps for a funeral and the postal service will deliver these invitations the next day, if put in the mail box by 5pm. The invitation is basically informing people about the death and giving them all the information about the funeral services. And I stress again, it is rare to show up at a funeral without getting an invitation, but it can been done. The invitations are also part of the insurance package.

Even though this is a small country, the regions of the country could have different traditions for a funeral. But basically, the funeral is to respect the wishes of the deceased and to reflect that person’s life, and that is universal, isn’t it?

Through this whole process, I met a lot of really nice people who loved Uncle John. When I met them, I felt I was getting to know him a little better each time. Sometimes, when I greeted the men, I could see Uncle John in them and that was a comfort too. Funerals allow you to cry in public and that is a good thing, I think.

There was a funny moment at the calling hours. We had all lined up to greet the first arrivals, and to my right were our two children. They both turned to me at the same time and said “Jane, when the person comes up to you, put out your right hand and shake it. That is how we do it here.” I looked at them and laughed “do you actually think I don’t know how to shake someone’s hand?!” They shyly looked at me and said “well, we didn’t know if Americans used the same hand as we do.” I think we all needed that moment.

Finally, I will share one beautiful moment with you, if I may. On the morning of the funeral, the family gathered at the funeral home to have a last farewell with Uncle John before the casket was closed and taken to the church. We were a variety of ages, from 12 to 74, and we were all hit with many emotions. Before the casket was closed, we took all the get well cards that had been on Uncle John’s hospital room wall, and placed them in the lower part of the casket. Uncle John loved those cards and when a visitor would come, he would say “look at all my fan mail”. So we all laid these bright and colorful cards in the casket and said goodbye one last time. Then, we as a family, closed the lid (I confess that I struggled with this moment) and then the flowers were put on top. He was now ready for his last drive through his beloved town of Borculo.

Recommended reading: BENEDICTION by Kent Haruf. I absolutely adore this writer. If you have not read his previous novels, please get them asap. He writes about the simple and yet troubled life, with such clear characters. You believe that these people could really be living in Colorado. His latest book is character driven and just it just flies. Enjoy.

KISS ME GOODBYE

Before I moved from America, I had noticed that I was going to more funerals than ever before. If not going, then I was sure knowing more of the names on the obituary page. That is a predictable fact that as we age, so do our friends. The more friends you have, the greater chance that you will have friends with illness and then also lose some friends as well. I did know in my emotional preparation for the big move, that there was a likely chance that I would not see some people again. People who were much older than me, might not be around by the time I could come back for a visit. And I was right. Since moving to the Netherlands, I have lost friends to illness, mainly to cancer. Some deaths have been very hard to accept, especially long distance.

What I did not expect was that I would face this same situation here. I have made new friends here and have also been fortunate enough to be included into a wonderful family. My new family are warm, generous and extraordinarily kind. When I moved here two and a half years ago, I met Uncle John and we became instant friends. He knew a little English and he and I were able to have some really good conversations at family parties. When he found out that I was interested in the Second World War, we found a bond. He tried to educate me about the war and how it impacted the Dutch. He remembers, as a little boy, the airplanes flying over his home. He remembered so many specific things that it made me see the war in a whole new way. He was very proud of the town of the town of Borculo, where he lived.  It was because of Uncle John that I found out new details about the occupation of the Netherlands and how it devastated the Jewish population. He and I enjoyed each other’s company and he was always a pleasure to see. The first thing that I remember about Uncle John was that he spoke a little English and he tried so hard to talk with me. I loved that he made such an effort, it made my transition so much easier.

Uncle John died this past week and it is still shocking for me to even type this. He had been ill for a short time and then he quickly got weaker. We were told that he had only a matter of days to live, so this family of eleven traveled to his part of the country for the weekend to say farewell. All of us had special stories about Uncle John, and most of them were pretty funny. I, of course, knew him the shortest time, but I am so grateful that he was in my life.

I want to just share what happened the afternoon we had our final visit with him. He was going to receive the last rites. This is something I was not familiar with, as I am not a Catholic, but I have seen plenty of scenes in movies where this is done. This was not like the movies at all. We all got to speak privately with Uncle John and he was quite alert. As a matter of fact, he was quite charming. Uncle John is famous for being an excellent host and he was almost like a maître d’. Then the priest arrived and we all gathered in a semi-circle in this small room and watched to see what happened next. I found later that no one really knew what was going on either, but we knew to be quiet and let this young priest run the show. But really, Uncle John was in charge. He is a former priest. He told the priest in the middle of the ceremony that he had quit the priesthood because of the many stands that the church took that were opposite of John’s beliefs. He said: “I did not quit because of a young chickie, I left because I disagreed with the church.” We all smiled at that and the smart priest never interrupted.

We then were invited to lay our hands on top of Uncle John’s head. I am not sure what this meant, but we all did this. One at a time, we went to him and as we placed our hands on his head, we quietly spoke to him and he responded. I must say it was a beautiful moment for me and the others. It was so intimate and loving. Eleven people could say anything they wanted to him and no one could hear anyone else. Except we could all hear Uncle John, as his voice was loud and clear. Throughout these last rites, there were many smiles and laughter. And there was not a dry eye in the room. Most of us were crying most of the time, but John was strong and became our comfort. It was hard to believe that he was going to die, as he seemed so full of life. A few prayers were said, and then it was over. Uncle John wanted us all to have some coffee and tea that had been brought in for us. He could never stop being the host, even from his bed. We then all said goodbye or goodnight.

His sister and her husband came back later that night as they were told that he had gotten worse. They sat with him as he struggled to breathe. We were all called at 3:15am to get to the nursing home as the time had come. The place is five minutes away, but by the time we got there he had died. We all went in to see him, to touch him and to kiss him one last time. He was so still and he no longer had to fight for a breath.

In my first year here, Uncle John invited us to his beloved town of Borculo so that he could give us a historical tour. He was focusing on what happened in this town during the second world war. He and I had already discussed the history, so I had  a good sense of the town. In fact, I wrote two blogs about this visit called THE TOWN and THE TOWN, PART TWO. We were walking down a quiet cobblestone street, he and our son and me. A man walked by and greeted Uncle John. Our son looked up at Uncle John and said “are you the mayor of Borculo?” Uncle John seemed to get taller and a little puffed up, he smiled and shook his head no. I said “no, he isn’t, but he should be.” I think Uncle John floated on air for the rest of that walk.

I have lost a friend and a member of my family, but so many people have been touched by his life. He was so generous and kind to his friends and in love with life. He had a passion for good food, for classical and choral music, he was a very serious stamp collector and he loved his family. Over and over again, on his last day of life, he said “this is my family.” And we were all so proud to be part of a family that Uncle John was in. It was truly an honor to know him.

THE KID FROM BROOKLYN

I have often said how much I enjoy reading a new author. It is like I have made a new friend that not everyone has met yet. Then, when I have finished the book and have loved it, I have to tell everyone about it. I feel as a librarian it is my responsibility to get the word out about this author.  Not only do I love to recommend books, I love getting book suggestions from friends. You never know what it will lead to.

Recently, a friend of mine posted on Facebook that she loved a new book from England. This friend is the highly regarded (and super nice) writer Sarah McCoy and so I took her suggestion very seriously. I knew she must have really loved the book, as she is quoted on the back cover. Let me just say, Sarah was so right!  The book is HOUSE OF TIDES by Hannah Richell and it is was simply a pleasure to read. If you like British family sagas, then you will love this. If you are fan of Rosamund Pilcher (now that is a name from the past) then you will definitely enjoy this book. Most of the book takes place on the British coast, so it is a perfect book for summer, but no matter when you read this, you will thoroughly enjoy Richell’s fabulous story about one family over one decade and the secrets that are held onto and finally revealed.

Now that we are in the middle of summer, it is time to promote the new books coming out this fall. It is quite exciting to see many famous authors listed and I am sure that you have your favorites. I have already made my wish list and am eager to get these books into my hands. Remember, this is just a sampling of some returning authors.

  • MaddAddam – Margaret Atwood
  • Bridget Jones Mad about the boy – Helen Fielding
  • Songs of Willow Frost – Jamie Ford
  • Just one evil act – Elizabeth George
  • Signature of all things – Elizabeth Gilbert
  • W is for wasted – Sue Grafton
  • Sycamore Row – John Grisham
  • Doctor Sleep – Stephen King
  • The Lowland – Jhumpa Lahiri
  • We are water – Wally Lamb
  • Dissident Gardens – Jonathan Lethem
  • Who asked you? – Terry McMillan
  • Valley of amazement – Amy Tan
  • Identical – Scott Turow

What names popped out to you? What names got you excited?  For me, there were many reasons to get excited, but anytime that Wally Lamb is on a booklist is GREAT news. There are many authors that I dearly love and I am sure that is the same for you. One of the best things about being a reader is that there is such a variety of books to choose from. All books published are not for everyone. So if on this list, you find one of two that make you smile or curious, then that is a good thing. The other good thing is that there are so many talented writers that we are familiar with, but what about the ones we don’t know about? That is what is such a thrill, making that discovery of a new author, like Hannah Richell. The joy of reading comes in many ways, the book that is like an old friend and the brand new writer who was a pleasure to meet. Something for everyone.

Recommended reading:  BROOKLYN by Colm Toibin. I read this book when it first came out and am now rereading it for book group. I really like the way he writes and this is such a good story about a young Irish woman moving to Brooklyn in the 1950’s and then going home again. By the way, there is a Dutch town called Breukelen and when the Dutch came to America they founded Brooklyn, New York and named it after their town in the Netherands. By the way, BROOKLYN will soon be made into a film.

 

 

DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES

Here are just a few tidbits from the Netherlands.

First, an update on the drama at the red light district in Utrecht. As of right now, the houseboats are all closed. The prostitutes have had to clear out their personal belongings and vacate the boats. In effect, they have no place to conduct their business.

The city has had serious concerns about human trafficking and do not believe that having business as usual is a safe environment for the women. Mayor Aleid Wolfsen has said that the city is not against prostitution, but against forced prostitution. He maintains that there is enough proof that some women, not all, but some women are being forced to be a prostitute. Most of these women are from other countries, and may have been brought here for this work. A judge has agreed with the city’s decision to close down this area, and at the end of July, the entire houseboat area and some specific rooms were all closed. 230 people are now out of work.

Right now, some of the women are working to create a cooperative that will allow them to work legally in Utrecht. Some women will leave the city and go Amsterdam or Rotterdam. But the prostitutes want to stay in Utrecht and one of the main reasons is that Utrecht is safer than the other cities. So the windows of the houseboats are dark right now and there are no cars touring the area. I am not sure how long this will last, but the city seems very determined to keep the area shut down.

A recent survey was taken about what Dutch city is the most expensive when it comes to buying a round of drinks at an outdoor café or terrace. The definition of a round is two small beers, two glasses of red wine, and two soft drinks. The Hague has won this distinction this year with the most expensive round costing  21.70 euros. That has gone up, last year it cost 20.86 euros.

Amsterdam has been the most expensive city (for the cost of drinks) for 7 years, and now it is number 5 on the list. In Amsterdam, the current cost of a round is 21.15 euros.

How does that translate into dollars? 21.70 euros comes to $28.80 for a round of drinks. What do you think? Does that seem comparable to what you pay at your café or bar? Just imagine what the tab will be at the end of the night, with more rounds ordered and maybe some snacks too. It is hard to find a place in this country to go to for a cheap night out. It might be smarter to buy some beer and wine at the winkel, take it home and call some friends over.

And finally, some good news. Seventeen year old Mats Valk, from the Netherlands, came in second in the Rubik’s Cube World Championships in Las Vegas. He completed his cube in 8.65 seconds. The winner was from Australia. But Mats is still the world record holder with a time of 5.55 seconds. I cannot even imagine doing the cube in 5 minutes, let alone seconds. Who am I kidding? I could work on that thing all day and I would end up throwing it out the window.

Recommended reading: THE END OF YOUR LIFE BOOK CLUB by Will Schwalbe. This is the true story about a woman diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, but I must stress that this woman is simply extraordinary. Her son has written about their relationship as she is being treated for cancer and facing the end of her life. They both share a passion for reading and they created their own book club. This is a love story in the highest level. But it is also a great reminder of the power of books. A truly lovely book.