Should this be news?


Perhaps, I shouldn’t have, but the article’s content really irked me. The Guardian’s columnist Hadley Freeman today posted a “stirring” piece. Usually, I skip the Guardian’s opinion articles. Unfortunately, the headline caught my eye, so I read the piece.

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Book review: “Les Jeux sont Faits” by Jean-Paul Sartre

The book club had finished the Italian novel by mr Ammaniti, which most of us had read in translation (“I’m not scared”, Niccolo Ammanti). Some had even watched the DVD film version. One member remarked this author might visit the country as he was touring Europe to promote his latest work. The 2001 novel had not impressed me that much. It reminded me a bit of “The Witness” and Grisham’s “The Client”.

More important: as December’s full of holidays and feast days, the next read had to be short and good. Proposals like “A Brief History of Seven Killings” (anything but brief) and “Trespassing on Einstein’s Lawn” were shelved for 2016. Instead, we settled on Jean-Paul Sartre. On his film scenario “Les Jeux sont Faits”, to be precise.

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Amsterdam street art

DSC00097On my way back to Amsterdam Central Station yesterday, I noticed this street art.

Hope it makes you smile too.

We’ve had the Charlie Hebdo attack, the Badawi case is still continuing, and this morning a US blogger was murdered in Dhaka. Seems he’s one in a list of bloggers who were killed in Bangladesh. Hating others is not the answer, even if you strongly disagree with and disapprove of their views.

So: “Love to all haters”!

Meet the author: “Il faut beaucoup aimer les hommes”

As with the previous “meet the author” (see Steiners Geschichte): I have not read the book. As with the previous “meet the author”: I attended an interview with novelist Marie Darrieussecq. Unlike “Steiners Geschichte”, Marie Darrieussecq’s “Il Faut beaucoup aimer les homes” has been on the market since 2013. It was awarded the Prix Médicis in November 2013.Unlike with author Constantin Göttfert’s novels, I’ve read earlier novels by Marie Darrieussecq. Or rather: tried to, for her novels are occasionally very putdownable and sometimes no easy read.

Marie Darrieussecq was being interviewed about her latest novel, because a translation had become available. Personally, if at all possible – and certainly where Dutch translations are concerned – I prefer to read any book in its original language. At several occasions, I accidentally found out Dutch translations of great (modern) novels leave out pages, if not chapters of the original. So I now steer clear of Dutch translations. For who wants to watch half a Mona Lisa, a third of a Picasso, a quarter of a Damian Hirst, three-quarters of a Banksy, or of any great or interesting work of art? Perhaps I’m naïve in presuming English and other translators stick closer to a text. The good news is, that most of Marie Darrieussecq’s novels are available in English, though not yet this one.

As Marie Darrieussecq mentioned in this highly entertaining interview: the title of this novel is a citation. Marie Duras somewhere wrote « Il faut beaucoup aimer les hommes. Beaucoup, beaucoup. Beaucoup les aimer pour les aimer. Sans cela ce n’est pas possible, on ne peut pas les supporter. » (One needs to love men greatly … otherwise they are insufferable.) This certainly had the majority of the audience in stitches. And one of the themes of this novel is indeed how much a woman loves a man – far more than he loves her – and how love influences her.

The heroine of this book is Solange, who’s also the heroine of “Clèves” (English title: “All the way”). As ms Darrieussecq mentioned: Solange is something of an alter-ego. Ms Darrieussecq invented this alter-ego by thinking: what would have happened to me, if I had not had the chance to receive the education I have received.

Solange is now older and an actress in Hollywood. For this novel, Ms Darrieussecq posed herself the question: “What if a white woman falls in love with a black man?” Are such relationships – she dislikes the term “mixed” as any relationship is mixed – still a problem today?

She presumed racism would be less of a problem these days, but told here audience that the same week she won the Médicis prize for this novel, France’s Minister of Justice Christiane Taubira had had to cope with shocking racism. It was one of the few serious moments during this lively, entertaining interview.

Unfortunately enough, Marie Darrieussecq only read once from her French novel. It would have been interesting to have heard her read paragraphs not only taking place in George Clooney’s Hollywood, but also in France and Africa, to illustrate how love affects Solange. For Solange follows her man to Africa, as he wants to film Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” there.

Of course one of the questions posed was: as the centre of the novel is Solange, why not keep out till the very last chapter, that her great love is black? But ms Darrieussecq told the interviewer and audience, that she did start out with this idea, but was unable to write the novel. So she had to rewrite. It are answers such as this one, which make a “meet the author” event so very interesting.

Will this novel be a good read? Based on this interview, it will be and will even be at times very hilarious. However, as ms Darrieusecq warned her audience: her readers seem either to love her books, or hate them.

Yet: if I compare what Marie Darrieusecq told her audience about her novel to what earlier the same week, Constantin Göttfert told his audience about “Steiners Geschichte”, I’m quite sure the latter is the better and more impressive book – for both male and female readers.

On faut beaucoup aimer les hommes“, Marie Darrieusecq, POL., 2013
Clèves” or “All the way”, Marie Darrieusecq, English version 2013

Youtube: author interviewed about “On faut beaucoup aimer les homes”, 2013
Youtube: author interviewed at the University of Arizona, 2012

That’s life

I hosted a visit to an exhibition on Asian Art in a Dutch museum. All of the group were familiar with the expat life. We sniggered about the betel habit and someone told about her more recent encounter with someone using khat. The rose water sprinklers, silver commemorative plates, paintings, clothes, Delftware, Yogya silver, jewellery, weapons, and furniture were admired.

In one of the rooms, one of us was able to translate the Japanese characters which were part of a woodblock print of two ladies with small child: “Wife of Holland”. I told the group a bit about this Dutch wife who visited Japan.

Like so many expats, she followed her partner to a distant country. He had been nominated to a post on Decima, a tiny island the Dutch were allowed to use as trading post by the then Japanese government. Common sailors were not allowed off the ships. Only officers and traders were allowed on Decima. The only women allowed to visit, were Japanese.

Titia, for that was her name, her young son, husband and servant, embarked on a sailing ship for a dangerous voyage of months from Holland to distant Indonesia. How awful life must have been on the ship! How alien the ports, people, customs, countries – everything – must have been to them!

From Indonesia, they and their Javanese “au-pair” sailed to Decima.

The then Japanese government ordered her, her child, her maids out. So the women and child sailed back via Indonesia to Holland. But Japanese people had seen and met the women and child. Artists had made portraits of them. These images endure.

I mentioned Titia’s story did not have a happy ending. She did return safely to Holland, but died without seeing her husband again. I said I found it rather sad.

Obviously silly in the eyes of one: “What do your mean sad? That’s life!”

I tried to explain but apparently, the European acquaintance shared some of the Shoguns’ attitude.

It upset me.

For Titia must have been quite something to have inspired a Dutch servant woman to accompany her on this voyage voluntarily. Or the Javanese child-minder. The bond between husband and wife must have been very special for him to risk the displeasure – or worse – of both the VOC managers and the Japanese power-brokers. She must have been like a green alien to the Japanese who saw her, yet the woodcuts convey something more than images of alien women with child.

Throughout it all shines love. Love which was not allowed to conquer all.

To shrug this off with “That’s life!”

I woke up at five in the morning, still feeling upset.

Interested in Titia’s story? Read the book written by R.P. Bersma: “Titia, the first western woman in Japan”, Hotei Publishing, 2002