There are so many things to think about when you are planning to study in the Netherlands, whether you are heading for Amsterdam, The Hague, Maastricht, or elsewhere. But once all the logistics have been taken care of, it’s time to get really excited. An excellent idea to get you attuned to your new country is to read some of their acclaimed literature. These 7 books are sure to give you some understanding of Holland and its people.
The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83¼ Years Old (Het geheime dagboek van Hendrik Groen, 83¼ jaar)
The author of this work kept the Dutch guessing for a few years as his identity was kept a closely guarded secret. It wasn’t the eponymous Hendrik Groen, but actually a librarian from Amsterdam by the name of Peter de Smet. With a nod to Adrian Mole, this amusing novel follows a year in the life of an elderly man in a nursing home, giving the reader an insider’s view of local politics and care policies.
The Dinner (Het diner)
The Dinner is a rather chilling account of how two middle-class families deal with a horrific deed perpetrated by each of their sons. It is very entertaining considering its subject matter, and The New York Times called it “absorbing and highly readable”. Herman Koch is an actor and writer from Arnhem, Netherlands, and this book will give you a good understanding of how the Dutch perceive social classes, and how far these parents were willing to go to protect their children.
The Evenings (De avonden)
Written by one of the great Dutch 20th century writers, The Evenings is a story of a young man seemingly treading water throughout his life. He is in a dead-end job that he hates, from which he has no desire to leave; he is just surviving and trying to get through each interminably long evening. Comedic in parts, it perfectly evokes the atmosphere of a post-war Amsterdam.
The Twin (Boven is het stil)
A sad and desolate novel, The Twin is about the struggle through adversity for one of the siblings. The Guardian describes it as having a delicate touch with subtle undercurrents, but it is also quite bleak as the elder twin is sent to university in Amsterdam while the younger twin stays behind but suffers a tragic accident. It centres on the human dramas in the main, but that is overlaid by descriptions of the Dutch landscape.
The Diary of a Young Girl (Het achterhuis)
The non-fictional exception to our list of novels, Anne Frank’s diary has made a significant impact in the literary world. Started on her 13th birthday, Anne Frank describes her life and that of her family, forced into hiding in Amsterdam in order to escape the Nazis during World War II. Fascinating, educating, and heart-breaking by turns, this is a classic that should not be missed. You can still visit the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam where the family spent most of the two years covered in the diary.
The Discovery of Heaven (De ontdekking van de hemel)
Harry Mulisch joins Gerard Reve in being thought of as one of the few great post-war writers from Holland. For his life’s work, he received an honorary doctorate from the University of Amsterdam in 2007. This highly regarded novel was also made into a film in 2001 with Stephen Fry as one of the lead actors, and the story centers on the manipulation of three people by an angelic being. Their lives are stage-managed so that the tablets containing the 10 Commandments may be returned to God. As an exciting thriller and a book voted the best Dutch novel of all time in 2007, this one is definitely worth a read before you go.
Beyond Sleep (Nooit meer slapen)
Described as a “deadpan Dutch comedy” by the Guardian, this fascinating study of researchers in inhospitable situations is engaging and thought-provoking. Although set in Norway, the context of university research work makes this a definitive must-read for anyone planning to study abroad. An alumnus of the University of Amsterdam, W.F. Hermans has written many acclaimed books, but sadly only a handful have been translated into English.
These books got you excited? Learn more about studying in the Netherlands!