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Un classico è appunto un libro che non ha mai finito di dire quel che ha da dire.
A classic book is one that has never finished saying what it has to say. (Italo Calvino)
An ode to the eternal youngster, for weren’t we, boys, all of us at one time Kees?
Unique, touching and, in places, uproariously funny. A masterpiece.
(Geert Mak, author of In Europe, Travels Through the Twentieth Century)
In November 2014 I did a long overdue rereading of Theo Thijssen's Kees de jongen, and rediscovered why this novel is considered by connoisseurs to be the best coming-of-age novel ever written.
After having, once again, been utterly spellbound, touched to the marrow and moved to tears (at times of emotion, at times of laughter) I found out that this gem has, astonishingly, never been published in English. I decided to rectify this deplorable situation, and this,
in turn, has led to the current translation, which has been running on this site as a weekly serial from April 2016 to March 2017.
The print-on-demand paper edition version (with a really beautiful cover!) can now be ordered at www.mijnbestseller.nl/shop, and is also beginning to make its appearance in ever more bookstores from Amsterdam outwards.
Price 20,72 (Or make an appointment with me and save cost of shipping)
From the preface to the book:
So tell me, you say, why is it so good? Why should I read the story of a twelve-year-old lower middle class boy in late 19th century Amsterdam, the story of his little concerns, fantasies, worries and preoccupations, his rather drab daily life and the daydreams that enable him to escape from it?
Well, in the first place, because these concerns and fantasies are universal. We’ve all had them at times (and still do, if we’re honest enough to admit it). With its well dosed sentiment the story tugs at our heartstrings, but it is utterly convincing and true to life.
Has the mind of a twelve-year-old ever been so intimately, so comprehensively, so compassionately exposed?
Next, the style is terse. The author is wary of florid writing, of giving his text airs and graces. He wants us to absorb the story effortlessly, without language getting in the way.
Third, it is funny. But the humour is not at anybody’s expense, and it is not flaunted. A delicious irony pervades the book, an irony so subtle that at first it easily escapes notice. Thijssen takes his protagonist 100% seriously, sliding back and forth smoothly between (Kees’) fantasy and reality (with events not always conforming to the way Kees had imagined them to evolve), and in a truly masterful way makes us identify with the boy.
We get carried away and - initially - forget to laugh.
This is humour by stealth, humour-that-gets-under-your-skin, humour that tickles long after the fact. And this may be one reason why the novel has long been a cult book in the Netherlands. Had it been written by Chekhov, this novel would have been one of his major works. No less an authority than the current doyen of Dutch literature, Remco Campert, has deemed it one of the best ever written (and he wasn’t thinking of Dutch literature only).
The novel has all the charm and couleur locale of Amsterdam at the turn of the 19th century, when winters were severe, lamps burned on paraffin and carriages and street cars were horse drawn, but for sheer economy and pace of the narrative it could have been written yesterday.
But why elaborate? Please dip in and convince yourself! (End of preface)
Some comments by native speakers of English:
- The translation is obviously the product of someone who is deeply familiar with Theo Thijssen's work and with the historical period he wrote about. It is also written with deep sensitivity and respect for the original author's intent. In its provisional state, the translation already does a wonderful job of conveying the feeling of the period and the characters, and of drawing us into Kees' coming of age. It is an enchanting story and a lovely window into the daily life of Amsterdam in days past. I hope the completed translation will be published so that this story and piece of Amsterdam's history can be shared with the English-speaking world. (Tony Atkins)
- Hi, Bas. I hope your holidays were good. Thanks for the latest passages, I am really enjoying the book so far. The more adult drama is starting to creep in, which really makes the earlier sections even more charming, but also bittersweet. (Tony Atkins)
- I love the bits you sent me so far. It's a precious story - the humour is fantastic! (Pipaluk Weinhold Andersen)
- I am very impressed with your translation and would love to share your work with our readers.
(Paola Westbeek, Editor in Chief of DUTCH, the magazine: see March-April 2017 issue.)
Sample chapters, covered by copyright
This translation is protected by law as Intellectual Property.
It has been made available for personal use only.
No part of it may be reproduced without consent of the translator.
(Chapter titles are mine, not the author's.)