Dutch Language Blog

Book Review: Hendrik Groen Posted by on Jul 18, 2018 in Uncategorized

My latest immersion in Dutch literature was the witty (and slightly heartbreaking) diary of Hendrik Groen. Hendrik Groen, both the name of the protagonist and the pseudonym of the writer takes us through a year of Hendrik living in a retirement home.

About the book

Photo taken by Kurt:S found on Flickr.com with license CC BY 2.0

Het geheime dagboek van Hendrik Groen, 83¼ jaar was first published in 2014 and became a hit, and in 2016 won the Publieksprijs voor het Nederlandse Boek, also known as Book of the Year. In this book, Hendrik promises to spill some secrets about life at the retirement home and hopes that his good friend will read it during his funeral. Throughout the novel, Hendrik shares his troubles with budget cuts at the home, the negativity and complaining of his fellow “inmates” as he calls them, and discusses current events such as the coronation of Willem-Alexander (who was nicknamed Pilsner Alexander), cutbacks to pensions and benefits for the elderly and political figures such as Mark Rutte and Henk Krol from the 50Plus party.

Hendrik has quite a funny way of narrating his story, and at the same time, he discusses some pretty difficult topics such as dementia, Alzheimer’s, growing old and dying. A few of his friends are so conflicted with the idea of not leaving the home and of wasting away their last years, that they decide to start the Old But Not Dead Club. Every few weeks, one of the members plans a unique outing. They play golf, visit a museum, take part in a cooking class and go wine tasting. All these activities bring them back to life, and the plans for upcoming trips seems to keep them going. There is also a bit of romance in the book. Hendrik becomes fond of Eefje, a new resident, and, while their relationship remains platonic throughout the novel, they keep each other company and look after each other.

Another topic that Hendrik muses over in his diary is that of euthanasie. The following text is from the website www.rijksoverheid.nl:

Wie kan om euthanasie vragen?

Euthanasie kan alleen plaatsvinden op verzoek van de patiënt. Een voorwaarde hierbij is dat de patiënt zelf wilsbekwaam is of een wilsverklaring heeft opgesteld. De patiënt kan bijvoorbeeld in de wilsverklaring aangeven dat hij euthanasie wil laten uitvoeren bij een vergevorderd stadium van een terminale ziekte.

In other words, euthanasia is only possible for people with a terminal disease as well as some cases of dementia (the latter only possible if the person left a will specifying this before dementia). Like the same website states, doctors are not obligated to fulfill a patient’s wish to die, but if they do decide to help, there are strict protocols. In the novel, Hendrik discusses it with his huisarts for himself as well as for one of his dear friends after a stroke. Through his questions and the dialogue with the doctor, Hendrik shares some of the questions and doubts related to euthanasia especially with elders.

Having just read the novel, I found it amazing to watch the trailer for the TV show.

About the writer

When this novel was first published, the writer used the pseudonym of Hendrik Groen, but with all the publicity surrounding the Book of the Year award, the real name seems to have been discovered. An article from the Volkskrant from April 17, 2016 states:

Wie is Hendrik Groen? Aan dit gezelschapsspel dat al ruim twee jaar duurt lijkt nu een einde te komen. De zoektocht naar de ware identiteit achter de fictieve bejaarde uit Amsterdam-Noord van de ‘geheime dagboeken’ Pogingen iets van het leven te maken en Zolang er leven is leidt naar Peter de Smet, een 61-jarige inwoner van Amsterdam-Noord die verder geen boeken heeft geschreven. Hij werkte tot voor kort bij Muziekschool Noord.

Hendrik Groen published two other novels, Zolang er Leven is: Het nieuwe geheime dagboek van Hendrik Groen, 85 jaar and Leven en laten leven.

The following video is an interview with André van Duin who plays Evert, Hendrik’s good friend. I must warn you that he speaks fast! Did you watch the series or read the book?

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About the Author: Karoly Molina

Since I was a little girl, I was fascinated with languages and writing. I speak English, Spanish, Italian, Dutch and a little bit of French. I am a writer, reader, language teacher, traveler, and a food lover! I now live in The Netherlands with my husband Riccardo, our cat Mona, and our dog Lisa, and the experience has been phenomenal. The Dutch culture is an exciting sometimes topsy-turvy world that I am happily exploring!