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Taboos: New Dutch and Flemish Writing

May 2014

Image: Trees De Mits, BIRD ICELAND, 2009. Photograph on Dibond, 34cm x 45cm, Courtesy of the artist.

Image: Trees De Mits, BIRD ICELAND, 2009. Photograph on Dibond, 34cm x 45cm, Courtesy of the artist.

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.

Safely Home: Short Prose from the Netherlands and Flanders
By Victor Schiferli & Sanneke van Hassel
What are the things that can’t be mentioned?
By Thijs de Boer
“I’ve lost Mom’s grave at cards.”
Translated from Dutch by Liz Waters
The Way to the Sea
By Elke Geurts
It hadn’t been moving as it was getting pushed out.
Translated from Dutch by Hester Velmans
By Mensje van Keulen
“Virgin eh? If you shout I’ll cut your throat.”
Translated from Dutch by Ina Rilke
Ten Floors
By Ton Rozeman
The Internet no longer suffices; real life beckons.
Translated from Dutch by Liz Waters
Dead Men Always Win
By Walter van den Berg
So you wouldn’t care if I crashed my car into a tree?
Translated from Dutch by Laura Watkinson
By Esther Gerritsen
“You’re not likely to live a long time with something like this.”
Translated from Dutch by Michele Hutchison
The Virgin Marino
By Yves Petry
Marino picks up the two lengths of rope on the table and ties the man’s wrists to the rings.
Translated from Dutch by Hester Velmans
White Feather
By Sanneke van Hassel
I said, “I love you.” “Oh, my sweet,” she replied.
Translated from Dutch by Liz Waters
Fucked Up
By Manon Uphoff
Some stories I make up and others gnaw their way out from inside.
Translated from Dutch by David Doherty
from “Tooth and Nail”
By Arnon Grunberg
“Did you tell him? My boyfriend is at a conference about the Holocaust.”
Translated from Dutch by Sam Garrett
By Maartje Wortel
I work out like I swear: plenty and often.
Translated from Dutch by David Doherty
For an Easy Life
By Peter Terrin
She said that he could at least have the politeness to let her finish.
Translated from Dutch by David Colmer
The Bearded Lady
By Annelies Verbeke
“One of us, one of us,” the photos chanted.
Translated from Dutch by Liz Waters
The Ohio Hat
By Anton Valens
I passed by the bed from time to time to check whether he was still alive.
Translated from Dutch by David McKay