On my first visit to the Netherlands, I had an experience of uncanny familiarity. Sitting over a selection of Dutch cheeses in a café, I thought I heard the women at the next table chatting in English. Listening harder, however, I discovered that no, I couldn’t understand what they were saying. They must be speaking Dutch. I tried tuning out a little – and, yes, the cadences, the tones, the rhythm of their sentences could have been English.
Editing this Dutch edition of The Riveter, I’ve had a similar experience. Superficially there’s something very familiar about the concerns, the ideas, the tone and the humour found in these pieces. Yet read more carefully and you’ll find the specificities of the Dutch experience. The UK and the Netherlands are both wrestling with their European identity and postcolonial inheritance, and with the challenges and opportunities presented by immigration, but as authors Karin Amatmoekrim and Rodaan Al Galidi reveal, we come at these in different ways. Both countries are still haunted by the experiences of the Second World War, but for the Netherlands, as Selma van de Perre and Marja Kingma discuss in our section on Dutch Holocaust literature, it’s not simply the fight and the suffering that people recall, but being invaded and occupied. And we both have close neighbours with whom we share a political history, a language and a culture. Yet the relationship between the Flemish and Dutch languages is very different from that between UK English and Irish English, for example, as Jonathan Reeder and his Flemish translator chums chew over in the introduction to the Flanders section of The Dutch Riveter.
In the short-story extract that opens this magazine we see Joost de Vries’s character finding it difficult to distinguish the Netherlands from its neighbours as he flies over the land, but as the plane makes its descent, he begins to identify landmarks. In The Dutch Riveter, we want to present you with literary landmarks – Herman Koch, arguably Dutch literature’s best-known export; Geert Mak, probably its most famous nonfiction writer; the new Dutch star, Marieke Lucas Rijneveld; and the renowned poet Hagar Peeters. But we also want to offer you a closer look at the Dutch literary landscape, introducing you to authors you may not yet have heard of – such as Karin Amatmoekrim, Maartje Wortel, Simone Atangana Bekono and Anne-Gine Goemans – who are exploring new aspects of Dutch culture and taking fresh views on Dutch society. Rather than simply telling you how great this ‘New Dutch Writing’ is (to borrow a phrase from our Letterenfonds partners), we’re allowing you to experience the work of these exciting authors, offering you a wealth of extracts in this magazine, including some exclusives – poetry from the first Dutch winner of the International Booker Prize, Marieke Lucas Rijneveld, and a short story from Maartje Wortel.
Working on this magazine has been very different from The Romanian Riveter, dominated as it was by memories of the Ceaușescu regime, or The German Riveter, which examined the country’s writing post its reunification. In The Dutch Riveter the interest seems to be in how alike, and simultaneously unalike, the literature of our two countries is. Reading Geert Mak’s opening essay – in which he takes British readers by the hand and lays out the history of his country for us, readying us for the literary road the magazine offers – is to have the delight of finding something new inside something completely recognisable.
The new in the familiar is certainly what I discovered while commissioning and editing this magazine, and we at The Riveter have some key people to thank for these finds. Specifically we must thank the translators from Dutch and Flemish who form the major part of our contributors this time – as reviewers and feature writers as well as mediators of literature and language. We also need to thank the Nederlands Letterenfonds, the Dutch Foundation for Literature – and their New Dutch Writing campaign in the UK – who have supported the magazine, both financially and editorially.
The Riveter always sends its readers on a journey. This time it’s to somewhere close to home, yet we’re sure you’ll find it every bit as intriguing as our far-flung literary destinations.
By West Camel, Editor