Friday, August 12, 2011

Postcard Fridays: The Netherlands

Kady joins us today to send us on a trip to the Netherlands... we think...
via Creative Commons

I have such a tenuous grasp of geography* that I had to ask Nico if "the Netherlands" and "Holland" meant the same thing. They do, or Holland is at least part of the Netherlands. Regardless, they all speak Dutch and that's enough for me to base a blog post on.

In addition to both being about people who speak Dutch (and the land that they live in) the books that I want to talk about today have a very similar narrative structure: They both feature a past story, taking place during WWII, and a present story, in which a descendant of one of the WWII characters tries to unravel the mystery of that their ancestor left behind. Spoiler: The mysteries are mostly about who slept with who and usually, sub sequentially, who betrayed who. Apparently being in the Dutch Resistance movement during WWII was a sexy, dangerous time for all involved.

Enough intro, let's start with Postcards from No Man's Land by Aidan Chambers.

In Postcard's from No Man's Land, 17 year old Jacob is a bit odd. He decides to go to Amsterdam in part to "find himself" and in part to reconnect with his family legacy. His grandfather (also named Jacob) was injured during a battle to liberate occupied Holland. In just a few days, current Jacob is expected to represent his family at a ceremony honoring the victims and veterans of that battle. But first, he's taking his trusty copy of the Diary of Anne Frank (whom he's a little bit obsessed with) and go visit her house in Amsterdam. But when he's mugged on his first day in Amsterdam, Jacob quickly learns that this trip is not going to go according to plan and he must learn to adapt while learning more about his dead grandfather and also confronting questions about his own identity and sexuality. Woven throughout the story of current Jacob, is the story of his Grandfather Jacob, a British soldier during WWII who parachuted into Holland and was quickly injured during the Battle of Arnhem. He was taken in by a woman named Geertrui and despite having a wife and a small child at home in England, the two begin to fall in love. It is Geertrui who writes down their experiences in a book for current Jacob, and this book that sets current Jacob off on his journey of self-discovery.

Postcard's from No Man's Land won an insane amount of prestigious awards. including the Carnegie award in the UK for 1999 and the 2000 Printz award.

About five years after Chambers' book took the YA literary world by storm, Mal Peet offered his take on a dual narrative set partially in an occupied Holland (how awesome would it be if something that specific became an actual genre?). Peet's book Tamar is more action-y and less contemplative. And I like it a whole lot more. The story starts during WWII, when two members of the Dutch resistance, codenamed Tamar and Dart, parachute into occupied Holland to try and coordinate a bunch of disorganized resistance movements. Tamar is familiar with the region, he's served here before and it just so happens that he's in love with Marijke, the woman who serves as the pair's liaison and owns the farmhouse where he'll be posing as a farmhand. As Dart begins to spend more and more time with Marijke, he too falls in love with her.  When Dart discovers the true nature of Tamar and Marijke's relationship and what he considers Tamar's betrayal, it signals the beginning of the end for both their personal friendship and their professional relationship. And remember that their professional relationship is kicking Nazi butt, so it's kinda a big deal when he starts to go off the deep end.

Fast forward to 1995, a 15 year old girl named Tamar discovers a box in her late grandfather's items with her name on the lid. Her grandmother, Marijke, is in a nursing home and slowly sucombing to dementia so she can't help Tamar piece together what the items in the box mean. Tamar turns to her kinda, not really, sorta cousin Yoyo to help her unravel her grandfather's mystery and (surprise surprise) they begin to develop feelings for each other.

For a bonus Dutch book, be sure to check out the The Diary of a Young Girl, Anne Frank's diary from right before the Nazi occupation of The Netherlands through her years of hiding and up to her family's eventual capture by the Nazis. If you haven't read it for school yet, or don't think you'll be required to at some point, it's definitely worth a read to watch an unassuming young girl grow up without any idea of the historical implications of her experiences. 

*Funny story: when I chose to go to Arkansas for college my thought process was "Arkansas? That's in the south, I'll be close enough to Atlanta to go home some weekends." It was a nine and a half hour drive. I also consider all of Europe to be "over there" accompanied by a hand wave in one general direction.

top image from Nick Rickards

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