Tag Archives: John Nieuwenhuizen

Nine Open Arms

Nine Open Arms is a rather nice story, set in the Netherlands immediately before WWII. It’s the kind of story we don’t see so much of, and certainly not as much as we ought to, as not enough translated children’s fiction makes it across the language barriers.

I don’t know Benny Lindelauf who wrote Nine Open Arms, which was published in the original over ten years ago, and has finally arrived in the English speaking world in a translation by John Nieuwenhuizen, whose work I have come across before.

Benny Lindelauf, Nine Open Arms

Told by 11-year-old Fing, it’s the story about a family who move around a lot. It seems to have something to do with The Dad’s inability to keep down a job, rather than follow his next dream, taking his seven children and his mother-in-law along. In 1937 they are just arriving in Sjlammbams Sahara, discovering the house they are about to move into is pretty unusual as houses go. But at least it’s bigger than they’ve been used to, and Fing and her sisters Jess and Muulke have their own room.

We never learn  much about their four older brothers, but do see a lot of their grandmother Oma Mei. She tells stories.

Strange house, with strange things happening in and near it. And there is the mystery of their dead mother, and the reputation of their dead Opa Pei. The Dad’s new venture is cigar making, and I think you can guess how well that goes.

Then there is the cemetery next door and the gravestone and the tales from the past about Charley Bottletop and Nienevee from Outside the Walls. It’s all slightly strange, but it makes sense in the end, and it’s really quite a sweet tale, once you know ‘everything.’ It shows you how resilient children are, and how they take the oddest things in their stride.

And we really ought to read more books from the outside.


With a Sword in my Hand

When I started out with my foreign reading challenge I had ideas. I knew some things I’d be interested in reading, as well as some obvious countries I could pick. And then there are the totally new and unknown. I asked around, and one of the books that fell into my lap almost immediately was With a Sword in my Hand by Jean-Claude van Rijckeghem and Pat van Beirs. It’s what I’ve fondly referred to as ‘my’ Flemish book all spring.

I went looking for the original title, but can’t find it in a veritable forest of Flemish. Whatever the novel was first called, it’s been translated by John Nieuwenhuizen.

It’s very good. And it’s good to know there is plenty of unknown stuff out there. The world doesn’t revolve round English language books.

We frequently get some excellent historical novels set on the continent, but written in English. This is the same, only more so, as inevitably Jean-Claude and Pat must be more familiar with Flanders. When they make things up, they make it up the Flemish way.

Marguerite van Male

This novel is about a real person, Marguerite van Male, daughter of the Count of Flanders. It seems very little is known about her, so the authors simply borrowed her and made it all up, apart from her date and place of birth. She lived between 1348 and 1405, which in itself helps the reader, because at least you know she will be alive at the end of the book. There is enough of plague and sword fights that you could easily begin to worry.

Marguerite is a bit of a tomboy and she rides and uses a sword like a boy, if that’s not an un-pc thing to say. Her father is hard to get on with, and she has to learn to live with men deciding what she can and can’t do. There is an arranged marriage and there is a love affair or two.

In a way, nothing much happens, and at the same time an awful lot goes on. Marguerite is an interesting girl, and I now feel I know so much more about Flanders in the mid-fourteenth century. I’m not one for getting atlases out when reading, but seeing as there is no map included in the book, maybe I should have.

There is a refreshingly different attitude to nudity and childbirth, if not to the fighting and the swearing. Very impressed with the lessons in sword fighting. Less keen on the plague. But all in all, a wonderful story.