Friday, March 13, 2009

Dutch treat

It's hard to avoid A.C. "Appie" Baantjer if one is in the Netherlands or has contact with Dutch communities outside the country. He's written about sixty-seven novels featuring a rumpled police detective named De Cock (DeKok in English translations, for some reason). A successful television series based on the books' characters has aired for years in the Netherlands and Belgium. There are a Baantjer board game and a Baantjer museum, and the author's Web site offers novels, the game, DVDs and even a book about Baantjer's early days in the Dutch fishing town of Urk.

Here in the U.S., my Dutch teacher used both the television series and the board game as teaching tools. Though his country is small, Baantjer is a big star, in other words, in a way equalled by few crime writers anywhere.

Perhaps because of the television show's pace, humor and roster of skilled character actors, though, I've liked it better than I did the novel or two that I'd read in the series. But I think the books' appeal may come through better in DeKok and the Dead Harlequin, newly reissued in English translation by Speck Press. Here, De Kok muses about the Dutch national character:

"To form any sort of gang, or even a `group of guys,' is not all that common in this country. The Dutch criminal is by nature a pure individualist. He doesn't form groups; at most he'll work with a single partner,"
to which his occasionally impetuous but here thoughtful colleague, Vledder, replies:

"You know ... when NATO conducts exercises, the story is the Dutch army always gets the lowest ratings in unit maneuvers, but the Dutch soldier is always rated first in guerrilla warfare. Perhaps with the inspired leadership of Pierre Brassel, the so-called gang managed to overcome their natural aversion to cooperation. Who knows what he promised them."
That's a nice, low-key piece of observation, off-beat, yet pertinent to the investigation at hand. DeKok's rumpled appearance recall Columbo, but his compassion and sharp, wry observations may remind readers of Baantjer's late countryman Janwillem van de Wetering.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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16 Comments:

Blogger Dorte H said...

So do you read crime fiction in Dutch or translated into English? People always ask me, but I only read in Danish, English, Norwegian and Swedish. With German and Dutch it goes too slow and I miss all the finer points.

March 13, 2009  
Blogger R. T. said...

I recently discovered Baantjer and was pleased to review DeKok and the Dead Harlequin for BookLoons, North America's premier book review site. Visit BookLoons online and check it out. (Postscript: Bravo to Speck Press for bringing English translations of Baantjer to North America. Keep them coming, Speck!)

March 13, 2009  
Blogger marco said...

Given the chance I'd always prefer to read the originals, but for me it is more a matter of availability and economic convenience.
I read a lot in Italian, English and German, less frequently in French and Spanish (still without much problem) and a couple of times I've slogged my way through books in Portuguese and Dutch.

Dorte's bilingual blog could be a nice opportunity to learn Danish.

March 13, 2009  
Blogger Dorte H said...

Marco, you are welcome :)
And with regard to ´economic convenience´ that is a really good reason to read in Swedish. It is cheaper for me to buy Swedish books and have them delivered at home than buying Danish paperbacks. (But then there is not much which is cheap in Denmark).

March 13, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dorte, I read in English, though I did read one of Janwillem van de Wetering's novels in Dutch -- a chapter or two in translation, then in the original each day.

I suspect that part of my dissatisfaction with the earlier Baantjers may be due to translation. Even in this one, the translation is clunky here and there, as if the translator's knowledge of English is not quite native-level. I did notice that the translator has a Dutch name, so perhaps English is not his first language.

March 13, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

R.T., I remember you mentioned that, and I thought of your review when I saw the book at Sleuth of Baker Street. So I bought it on your say-so. Thanks.

March 13, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I wonder if economic convenience might be responsible for that occasional clunkiness I mentioned above. I have heard it said that a translator should translate only into his or her own native language. But since so many Netherlanders speak English, the temptation to turn to a Ditch translator rather than looking for a native English-speaking one would be understandable.

March 13, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Marco, I agree that Dorte's blog would be a good school of Danish. I'd have the translations before me, the subject matter would be interesting and familiar, and I'd have the advantage of being a native speaker of a Germanic language.

March 13, 2009  
Blogger Dorte H said...

Marco og Peter, vi kan godt begynde sprogskolen med det samme.

Vi ses.

And Peter, you have at least made me consider trying a novel or two in Dutch.

The ordbekræftelse here is "decide" - should I take that as a hint? LOL

March 13, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Ja, ik ben het met je eens: We kunnen met elkaar te spreken beginnen.

The standardization of computer formats has been an aid to acquiring vocabulary in foreign languages. If I see an unfamiliar word where I am used to seeing "click," "send," "password" and so on, I feel safe in assuming that word is means the same as the English words I would see in their place.

Analagous reasoning taught me how to say "Long live low prices!" in Catalan.

March 13, 2009  
Blogger seanag said...

It would be totally false of me to pretend that I am even going to try to learn Dutch in order to read Baantjers. But his name has come up a time or two before. I've read most of the Van de Wettering books, though nothing after his long silence, and enjoyed them immensely. I haven't been convinced yet that Baantjers or De Kok are really in the same league, though I did like the bits you posted, Peter.

Any Baantjers fans want to advocate for him to an obtuse American?

March 13, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I had not been convinced that the Baantjers were in Van de Wetering's league, but I think this book may be better. Perhaps this current edition by Speck Press is offering some of the better books from the series.

I don't remember noticing similarities to Van de Wetering before I started DeKok and the Dead Harlequin, either in my previous Baantjer reading or on the television show.

March 13, 2009  
Blogger seanag said...

I expect that to ever know the truth I would have to know not only Dutch, but the Dutch culture that gives rise to his popularity. Hope to give him a try one of these days, though.

I think Van de Wettering, or at least his characters Gripstra and De Gier (sp?) translate to an American audience very well.

Many will not believe this, but my v word=agonizer. Straight up.

March 13, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That's a contender for best v-word.

I noted Baantjer's great popularity, but I never asked about it when I was in the Netherlands. Perhaps De Cock was the first Dutch fictional detective with compassion and a personality at least as interesting as the crime he solves. As a character, he's akin to Maigret and Columbo, I think.

You're short just one letter on Grijpstra and De Gier. I don't know if Van de Wetering was still writing the series when he moved to Maine. Perhaps he was, since he set one of the books there. In any case, perhaps they translate well for an American audience because the author was interested in America. A world traveller, he was.

I saw one or two episodes of the Grijpsta and De Gier television series. I remember thinking that they did not capture much of the book's off-beat, philosphical flavor. This could be due to my faulty understanding of the language.

March 13, 2009  
Blogger seanag said...

It's funny, but this raises an interesting question. Can it sometimes be harder to translate into another medium than into another language? I actually find it hard to picture a truly successful series of Grijpstra and De Gier. I mean, it's possible, but everything would depend on the actors.

March 14, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I seem to recall that the episode or episodes I saw did not include the commissaris, whose character and whose relationship with his wife, his turtle, Grijpstra and De Gier are among the highlights of the books.

March 14, 2009  

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