In order to familiarize myself with a number of Dutch authors I had not read before, I decided to lend a couple of books from the fantastic pubic library in the center of the Hague during the Christmas holidays. The first book I borrowed was ‘Het grote baggerboek’ (‘The great dredging book’) by Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer. I had to put this book down after reading three pages and scanning the remaining ones. The book came across more as a carpet-bombing exercise in vulgar language, than as a literary, or even readable, text.
The second book I borrowed was ‘Armin’ by Gustaaf Peek. Dutch literary critics loved it, I did not. Instead I found it incredibly boring and fell asleep two times, before I made it to page 20 and decided to give up.
This is where the third book, by Peter Buwalda (1971), comes in. Since his best known book ‘Bonita Avenue’ was not available, I made do with ‘Van mij valt niets te leren’ (‘You cannot learn anything from me’), a collection of short stories published in 2015. While I was reading it I kept laughing out loud, what a great sense of humor!
The topics Buwalda deals with include, amongst others, events in his daily life, a lost and found Rolling Stones documentary, a biography of Miles Davis, his experiences as an aspiring newspaper journalist and his compulsive drive to buy (series) of books. The latter include an extensive four-volume (and growing) biography of Lyndon B. Johnson and the collected musical essays of Simon Vestdijk (10 volumes). Due to the speed at which he acquires books, his collection grows on average 2,2 centimeters per day.
His writing appeals to me because he combines honesty and humor.First of all, Peter Buwalda comes across as an ‘honest intellectual’. Honest in the sense that he is not ashamed of the fact that he likes the music of Gustav Mahler and Miles Davis, but does not boast about this nor dwells on it. He manages to maintain a healthy degree of self-mockery, without making himself ridiculous or treating his subjets in a derogatory way. His sense of humor reminded me of the character of Nathan Zuckerman in the work of Philip Roth.
Finally, a number of Dutch authors prefer to use profanities extensively in their work, a trend that was set by the likes of Jan Wolkers and Gerard Reve. Unfortunately Peter Buwalda does not always seem to be able to completely ignore this trend. However, for a Dutch book the profanity level is only ‘low-moderate’.
I am looking forward to reading ‘Bonita Avenue’, his best known book so far, soon. This is also his only book that is translated in the English language.