Best wishes for 2015 everyone!
In the past year I was happy to read some wonderful, inspiring, surprising, playful, entertaining, fascinating and otherwise exciting books. Let's have a look at them.

In 2014 I continued my discoveries of the year before by reading new books by Patrick Leigh Fermor and Valeria Luiselli. I followed Leigh Fermor's journey on foot through Europe with the second book of his travels and continued my fascination with Luiselli through her novel De gewichtlozen.
Frank Westerman has become a steady name on my reading lists these last years. Stikvallei is already the 4th book I've read by him and he hasn't disappointed me so far.
Further, I finally found the mojo to pick up Truman Capote's In cold blood. It took my quite a few years to do so, but I'm glad I did. A great classic and it set me on track to discover another classic, To kill a mockingbird. That one I enjoyed even more.
New discoveries in 2014 were Anna Seghers, Kate Atkinson, Sten Nadolny and Olivia Manning. Anna Seghers made such an impression with Het zevende kruis that I'm now reading her second masterpiece, Transit. More on that one soon.
Kate Atkinson really was a delight. Such a catchy good read and deep at the same time, perfect!
Sten Nadolny's De ontdekking van het langzame leven was a gift we all received from our boss. A delightful historical novel - written in the 1980's and recently translated into Dutch - about a man who is slower than most, but manages to get quite far in life. He becomes a successful captain in the navy and even leads expeditions to discover a way through the northern ice sea. Inspiring stuff.
My last big reading project of the year was The Balkan Trilogy by Olivia Manning. More than a thousand pages of highly detailed descriptions of Manning's stay in Romania and Greece during the Second World War. I admit to cursing this book on a number of times, but ultimately I loved to read it all. Perhaps I'll try the follow up The Levant Trilogy this year.

These are all ten of my favourites in 2014 - the order I've read them in:

Anna Seghers Het zevende kruis
Patrick Leigh Fermor
Between the woods and the water
Truman Capote In cold blood
Valeria Luiselli De gewichtlozen
Frank Westerman
Kate Atkinson
Life after life
Sten Nadolny
De ontdekking van het langzame leven
Harper Lee
To kill a mockingbird
Olivia Manning
The Balkan Trilogy

In 2014 I published 33 reviews on Jacob de Zoet. Seven books read this year have remained unreviewed so far. I hope to catch up on some of them soon. At the very least Jaap Scholten's latest book Horizon City deserves a review. I quite liked it.

What else?
I started to read in German! I'm quite proud of this I have to say. I could already keep up a steady conversation in German, but I'd never read more than a few pages in a book. It feels very nice to discover a language in this way, just like I used to try my hand at English books for the first time many years ago.
I've read two German books in 2014 and I'm currently half way through a third one (Tschick). Another, with the delightful title Die Entdeckung der Currywurst, I picked up in Berlin last summer
. I hope to read that one sometime soon.

I had three interviews with authors in 2014, a new feature on Jacob de Zoet. My aim was to do a small Paris Review type of interview, to see who influences them, what books they enjoy reading and how they write. I plan to do more author interviews, so if you have any names to suggest or connections to make please let me know! Ideally they´re young, relatively unknown and nice to talk to...

I wish all of you a great reading year in 2015, with lots of books and hopefully some good ones too! As always do let me know if you have anything special to recommend me. Something old I've never heard of, a young author you're enthusiastic about or your all time favourite book which you couldn't find on this website. I look forward to reading them!

6 January 2015


Olivia Manning, a young and aspiring British writer, falls in love at the end of the 1930’s. She’d met the highly energetic socialist R.D. (Reggie) Smith and marries him within weeks. Just before the outbreak of the Second World War Reggie is recalled to his post as British Council lecturer in Bucharest. The newly-married couple decide to travel together to Romania and settle there for a while. The War comes gradually closer, however, and after barely a year in Romania they are forced to flee to Greece. As the Germans move to invade Greece the Smiths manage to cross the Mediterranean and land in Egypt. The remainder of the War they will spend in Cairo and Jerusalem, where Reggie finds employment with the Palestinian Broadcasting Service.

Manning quickly decided she should turn her war experiences into a book. Despite making extensive notes and drafts during the whole period and having an excellent memory for recording every detail, it took her twenty years to come up with the right form. She abandoned the autobiographical form and decided to turn everything into one big 'historical' novel instead. Of this I’ve now read the first part, called The Balkan Trilogy.
We meet Guy and Harriet Pringle as they journey by train to Bucharest. They’ve recently married in England and after a quick honeymoon continue to Romania where Guy holds a job as an English lecturer. At first Harriet is thrilled at her new life in this strange city. In those days Bucharest had a decadent streak and the young couple, part of the well-respected British community, get invited to quite a few parties, dinners and luncheons where food and drink are lavishly available to all. At the same time beggars and cripples can be seen on every street, not too shy to cling to the skirts of a rich foreign lady to produce a few lei.
Harriet slowly gets to know the man she’s married. Guy, a man of limitless energy, feels best among a crowd of people and is always out making new friends. Most people love him for this. Marriage, to Guy, mostly means that Harriet ought to support her husband in all his activities, be a chum or a comrade to him. Not as naturally sociable, she’s bound to observe somewhat grudgingly from the sideline and is, more often than not, made to feel quite neglected.
In the meantime the War engulfs Europe and Romania is slowly invaded by a sense of doom. More and more people lean towards Germany for protection against the Soviet Union that has long since had its eye on the Romanian territories. The once-ridiculed Iron Guard, pro-German fascists, now march openly through the streets of Bucharest. When King Carol abdicates and the Iron Guard leader Antonescu takes control of the country the German army is expected to invade Romania any day. The remaining British citizens are forced to flee the country. Harriet boards a plane to Greece and a week later Guy joins her in Athens.
For a while a sense of bliss enters the Pringles’ lives again. Harriet quickly falls in love with the Greek people and really wants to make Athens their home. Their happiness is not meant to last long though. The War seems to follow them wherever they go. The Greeks have successfully defeated an invading Italian army, only to find Italy’s powerful ally Germany against them. It is only a matter of time before the German army marches across the Greek border. Once again the Pringles have to flee. They manage to board the last evacuation ship transporting the British colony towards Egypt, where Britain is still strong.

This is where The Balkan Trilogy leaves off, after more than a thousand pages. Almost two years have passed for Harriet and Guy after we’ve first met them. Manning has recorded all of their experiences in intensely detailed prose. While Harriet meets new sights and sounds a great cast of characters fills her life. Manning has a good eye for both. I can hear the gypsy flower sellers on the Bucharest street corners, smell the food stalls in Cişmigiu park and feel the arctic breeze blow through the wide şoseaua’s in winter. It’s great to read so much about pre-Communist Bucharest actually. It makes me want to pick up Mihail Sebastian's journals again, who walked those same streets and even ate in the same restaurants if I'm not mistaken.
The Balkan Trilogy really is one of those books you can live in for a while. Because of its length and amount of detail my pace of reading fell down a few times, so in the end it took me almost two months to finish, but after spending so much time with one book I already miss it. Fortunately there’s a 1000-page sequel to The Balkan Trilogy, called The Levant Trilogy. It’s comforting to know I can read more about Guy and Harriet whenever I want, although I think I’ll leave them alone in Egypt for a little while.

16 December 2014

Arrow Books, 2004
Originally published separately in 1960, 1962 and 1965 (as one volume in 1981)
1033 pages


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