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May 2014

Taboos: New Dutch and Flemish Writing

This month we present Dutch and Flemish writing on taboos. Despite its stereotype as the ultimate permissive society, the Netherlands still considers many activities and behavior off-limits and not to be discussed. In their responses to violations ranging from murder to incivility, the characters depicted here reveal the complexity of this often-misunderstood society. Notions of motherhood go awry when Elke Geurts's perfectionist finds her expectations upended, and Esther Gerritsen's dying woman tries to connect with her self-involved daughter. Addictions drive (or derail) many characters, from Thijs de Boer's doped-up and drunken brothers to Ton Rozeman's porn fiend. Relationships are skewed, as Sanneke van Hassel's widower falls for an elusive woman and Yves Petry's sociopath commits murder and more.  Domestic life proves anything but tranquil, as Mensje van Keulen's angry husband storms out of the house and into a nightmare, Walter van den Berg's penitent abuser remembers the stepson he loved, and Manon Uphoff's writer turns her dysfunctional family into a successful career. Maartje Wortel's cancer sufferer swears by his illness. The telephone plays a role in Peter Terrin's story of an unexpected response to a telephone solicitor and Arnon Grunberg's recording of a cagey long-distance conversation. Anneliese Verbeke's young woman deals with an unconventional grooming issue. And Anton Valens's home care aide is driven wild by his elderly charge. Guest editors Victor Schiferli and Sanneke van Hassel contribute an illuminating introduction. We think this issue is definitely something to talk about. We thank the Nederlands Letterenfonds // Dutch Foundation for Literature, the Dutch Culture USA program by the Consulate General of the Netherlands in New York, Flanders House, and the Flemish Literature Fund for their support.

Elsewhere, Madeline Earp introduces the poetry of Liu Xia, who writes under house arrest while her husband, Liu Xiaobo, serves his prison sentence. And South Korea's great Ko Un pens a howl of grief and rage about the recent ferry disaster.

A Poem I Didn’t Name
By Ko Un
Now is a time of national mourning.Not for the death of a king we have never seen.Now is a time of national mourningduring which we all should thrust our heads down to the bottom of the sea where…
Translated from Korean by Brother Anthony of Taizé & Lee Sang-Wha
Safely Home: Short Prose from the Netherlands and Flanders
By Victor Schiferli & Sanneke van Hassel
This issue presents writing by Dutch and Flemish writers exploring the intrusion of the forbidden, the illegal, the unspoken into people’s lives and homes. What fears and taboos reside there? What…
By Thijs de Boer
I open the back door and the dog pushes its way out past my legs and runs into the woods at the back of our house. It’s already dark outside and I’m so hungover that I realize only then what…
Translated from Dutch by Liz Waters
The Way to the Sea
By Elke Geurts
The ultrasound technician was a tall woman with intense eyes. At the twenty-week scan Dylan and Tessa beheld the first black-and-white images of their baby moving. “You may as well go out and buy…
Translated from Dutch by Hester Velmans
By Mensje van Keulen
He raised the blinds, and his wife turned her back to the late sun slanting into the room. He paused a moment, registering the ginger hair partially hidden beneath the collar of the bathrobe, the hand…
Translated from Dutch by Ina Rilke
Ten Floors
By Ton Rozeman
Girls, women, he’s beginning to fathom them. On the Internet, stripped of shirts, underwear, false modesty, pretty much everything, they reveal their nature. With each click of the mouse more appear…
Translated from Dutch by Liz Waters
Dead Men Always Win
By Walter van den Berg
Your mom cut men’s hair for money.I don’t know if she started cutting hair again after the two of you disappeared, you and your mom, because she wasn’t very good, just cheap. You knew…
Translated from Dutch by Laura Watkinson
By Esther Gerritsen
For the first time in her life, Elisabeth runs into her daughter unexpectedly. She comes out of the pharmacist’s on the Overtoom, is about to cross over to the tram stop when she sees her daughter…
Translated from Dutch by Michele Hutchison
The Virgin Marino
By Yves Petry
The door opens, and it’s no surprise to Marino that the man who appears is wearing nothing but a pair of briefs. That was the agreement. More surprising is the expression on the man’s face.…
Translated from Dutch by Hester Velmans
White Feather
By Sanneke van Hassel
When I wake those damned blackbirds are there again. They cover my whole balcony in shit. There are two of them, but usually only the male shows himself and the female stays next door. White Feather I…
Translated from Dutch by Liz Waters
For an Easy Life
By Peter Terrin
The telephone was beige. Or an insipid office kind of brown. Square, both the receiver and the body, and the keys too—all right angles, a relic from the eighties. He still had it in the garage,…
Translated from Dutch by David Colmer
The Lonely Word: Three Poems by Liu Xia
By Madeline Earp
Since 2010, Chinese security agents have kept artist and poet Liu Xia imprisoned in her Beijing home, isolating her from friends and allowing her only occasional, chaperoned forays into the outside world.…
Fucked Up
By Manon Uphoff
Dear Reader,I was about to tell you of the first time that my stories were published, about how it came to pass and about my “birth” as a writer. But more than that, I would like to tell you…
Translated from Dutch by David Doherty
By Maartje Wortel
for my friend V.Sorry. That was my first word.Not Mama or Dada, not car or bear, but sorry. Just as well. It’s a word I’ve had plenty of use for. I swear a lot. I don’t mean to and that’s…
Translated from Dutch by David Doherty
The Ohio Hat
By Anton Valens
The height of summer, stifling heat, a stiff east wind. Sand and dust blew through the streets of the Amsterdam suburb. The schools were closed, and in the parks, office workers in shirt sleeves lay panting…
Translated from Dutch by David McKay
The Bearded Lady
By Annelies Verbeke
Just as no one can combat the graying of the population by dying their hair, so Emmy Debeuckelaer could not keep her sorrow at bay by giving herself a good shave. At the age of about sixteen, when the…
Translated from Dutch by Liz Waters
from “Tooth and Nail”
By Arnon Grunberg
When Violet tires of it, of people, of conversation, of the party, when she wants to get away without having to explain, she says: “I have to go to yoga.”There are moments when it is hard…
Translated from Dutch by Sam Garrett
A Grapefruit
By Liu Xia
I'm holding a big roundgolden grapefruitthat smells bitter.A small knifecan cut through what seemsto be a thick skin—I begin to shiverin quiet pain.A life without painis an unpickedfruit: it…
Translated from Chinese by Ming Di & Jennifer Stern
One Bird and Another
By Liu Xia
Once upon a timewe used to talk about a bird—a bird from nowherebrought us levity  and laughter.One winter night—yesit was a winter night—a birdcame to us while we were soundlysleeping.…
Translated from Chinese by Ming Di & Jennifer Stern
By Liu Xia
In the morning, a wordfrom someone else'sdream peeks at melike a conspiracy.The minute I open my eyesthe word,with an elegant gesture,takes me.The lonely wordis a terminal patient:pain and screaming,possibly…
Translated from Chinese by Ming Di & Jennifer Stern