Tony's Reviews > Amsterdam Stories

Amsterdam Stories by Nescio
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's review
Nov 03, 2011

liked it
bookshelves: nyrb-classics, dutch
Read from March 06 to 09, 2015

Two I liked a lot.

The Freeloader is Japi. A mooch. The story rather quickly put me in mind of Bartleby. Which I mean as a high compliment. The difference, here, is that Japi, who sponges constantly, nevertheless makes fast friends. Bohemians mostly, but still. How could you not like Japi, who actually had an office job, and, unlike Bartleby, stopped going. He explained:

You don't know what an office job is like ... First you go to school till you're eighteen. Do you know how many sheep there are in Australia or how deep the Suez Canal is? My point exactly. But I knew all that. Do you know what polarization is? Me neither, but I used to. I had to learn the strangest things: 'Credited to the inventory account,' translate that into French. Have a go at that. You have no idea, Koekebakker. And it goes on for years. Then your old man sticks you in an office. And you realize that the reason you learned all those things was so that you could wet slips of paper with a little brush...

My point exactly.

One other thing I learned in this story, and I reprise here for your edification, is that that the term sucked face was already in use in 1910. At least in Amsterdam. What you choose to do with this tidbit is entirely up to you, but I thought it was important enough to air.

The other story I liked was: Little Poet.

This story, in particular, had an autobiographical feel. The protagonist is a poet who because of circumstances - wife and four kids, public obloquy - gets a real job that turns into a real moneymaker. He's still a poet at heart though, which means his head turns easily to the lovely girl across the tracks. He fairly bleeds his amorous soul onto the pages, enough so, that our author writes this:

Now before I go any farther I should probably mention that my manuscripts too are recopied by my wife, and that she does not see the poetry in this story. Coba's flirting is not so terrible, she thinks it's because the little poet was neglecting her. The lady on the tram deserved a slap in the face and the little poet too. It's strange, in other stories she reads she doesn't think things along these lines are that bad. I think it's because I'm the one who wrote this story. Of course she knows there's a difference between the author and Mr. Nescio himself, but to her that's splitting hairs. It's a difficult situation. My domestic bliss is somewhat troubled--but still I'll keep going.

(Class Discussion Topic: So, authors and budding authors, you have all these great anecdotes with accompanying self-scrutiny from your own rule-bending past screaming for story treatment. Clearly you have to do more than just call your protagonist 'Fred' to avoid detection. Assume that your spouse would actually read what you've written (as I said, for discussion purposes). How do you avoid divorce court?)

What else I loved about 'Little Poet' was that God and the Devil have roles. They were both scene-stealers. A nice literary touch. In one scene, Dora, on the cusp of becoming a woman, has fallen for her brother-in-law. She spends an afternoon looking at her naked form, wondering. And God does too:

he beheld the tan little bumps above the hollow that was a poem, and the fine hairs that glinted in the sunlight, and he smiled. Then he looked gravely back down past his feet at his Rhine winding back and forth between his mountains, and he mused: "What's going on here? How did I let the Germans found another empire? Those Prussians...."

In another passage, God is riding the train. First-class compartment though. When he isn't looking out at the passing landscape, he's reading a report which states:

"Man's fate is to feel regret when he fails to reach his goal and to feel regret when he succeeds.
"There is no consolation in virtue and no consolation is sin.
"Therefore, cheerfully renounce all expectations. Place your hope in eternity: there is no awakening from this dream."

My point exactly.


The other stories were either fragments, whose placement here was lost on me, or stories of artist wannabes that I didn't find important. Sorry.


'Nescio', by the way, was the pen name of J.H.F. Grönloh, a highly successful businessman who wrote anonymously on the side. 'Nescio' is Latin for "I don't know". Now, I have many Goodreads friends who are multi-lingual. I'm not. That would make me feel inadequate, except that, unlike yinz, I'm fairly conversant in Appalachian. Here, "I don't know" would be spoken as UHN-uh-uh". Like Xhosa, it takes some practice.
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Comments (showing 1-8 of 8) (8 new)

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message 1: by Jim (new)

Jim Coughenour Just got this today – and I see you're way ahead of me.

Tony Not quite. I haven't purchased it yet.

message 3: by ·Karen· (new)

·Karen· A delight to read over tea and toast. Off to work now, thankfully NOT in an office, but I shall be practicing the nasal occlusive all the way. You never know when you might meet a friendly Appalachian.

Will think carefully about the discussion question. It sounds almost like an appeal for help.

message 4: by Fionnuala (new)

Fionnuala I couldn't help being reminded of Tolstoy as I chuckled over your account of Nescio's dilemmas, Tony - and not forgetting God's either - pity he got so distracted just then...
But back to Tolstoy. His wife Sofia copied all his manuscripts which must have been fine when darling characters were modeled on her, like Kitty in Anna Karenina. But she must have wondered who Anna herself was, those eyes, that mouth, the dark and softly curling hair...
And not to mention Sofia's feelings as she copied The Kreutzer Sonata where Tolstoy attacked a married woman who entertained a musician friend in her home everyday when she, Sofia, entertained a musician friend in her own home, every day. Sofia's diaries are interesting on all of this. And she wrote them for publication - knowing T would probably be dead before her, he being a lot older. But he, on the other hand, had no such compunctions and wrote pretty much what he liked.
But I don't know. As you say, authors have always had this dilemma of using real life in their fiction without betraying and hurting those closest to them. I guess the answer might be...the Tolstoy approach?

Tony I was waxing of course, Karen and Fionnuala, hypothetically.

message 6: by Teresa (new)

Teresa I had to look up "yinz" and I see that it equals my "y'all". I haven't forgotten, Tony, that you also speak baseball.

Tony Teresa wrote: "I had to look up "yinz" and I see that it equals my "y'all". I haven't forgotten, Tony, that you also speak baseball."

Yin and Yang,
Yinz or Y'all.
Twenty-two days
Till we hear "Play Ball!"

message 8: by Teresa (new)

Teresa My rhyme was unintentional, wished I'd noticed and made my lines into a poem like you did.

I've jumped the gun and have watched some college baseball.

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