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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Garden Where the Brass Band Played (1950) by Simon Vestdijk

Book Review
The Garden Where the Brass Band Played (1950)
 by Simon Vestdijk

   The Garden Where the Brass Band Played is a coming of age story.  A dark coming of age story, with heavy doses substance abuse, prostitution and death.  Vestdijk was an incredibly prolific Dutch author, but The Garden Where the Brass Band Played is the only work of his to really penetrate the consciousness of an English language audience. Its modest success in English translation is probably due to the combination of the familiar coming of age narrative, the very readable length (312 pages in the edition I read) and those heavy heartbreakers that dominate the third act.

  What appears to be a coming of age tale about a boy and his music teacher in a provincial town in the north of the Netherlands ends up as something much darker.  You don't exactly get a feel for place- the action could as just as soon be taking place in a small town in England or Germany, but that too might contribute to the ability of The Garden Where the Brass Band Played to resonate with non-Dutch audiences.

  I feel bad for Dutch artists- they are poised linguistically between English language audiences and German, but they don't carry the appeal of the familiar nor the thrill of the unknown.  Compare the popularity of Scandinavian authors to that of Dutch authors, for example.  The Swedes thrive on a mingling of otherness and familiarity, while the Dutch seem to generate neither reaction.

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