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Transit by Hella S. Haasse

Transit (1994)

by Hella S. Haasse

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Hella S. Haasse (1918–2011) was the grand old lady of Dutch letters. Although for many years, literary critics ignored her work, which they characterized as belletristic, and therefore less literary, Haasse had no trouble finding readers for her work. In fact, her work was translated and read in other languages long before that of the critics' favourites, and in more than 60 years of her active live as an author Hella S. Haasse was able to entice various generations of readership. Unlike any other Dutch author, she was selected thrice to write the Boekenweekgeschenk a complimentary publication of approximately 96 pages, presented to book buyers during the annual "Week of the Book" in March, a Dutch tradition since 1930. Haasse wrote Oeroeg in 1948 (her literary debut), Dat weet ik zelf niet, an essay, in 1959, and Transit in 1994.

The strength of Haasse's work is probably that she can go with the time, while writing from a contemplative, melancholic mood, while touching on themes which are central to the Dutch imagination and culture. Haasse has written several historical novels, many of which set in the former Dutch Indies (now Indonesia), where she was born. Oeroeg (filmed in 1993) is about the Dutch Colonial war in which friends who grew up together, Dutch and Indonesian, find each other on opposite sides in the Indonesian war of Independence.

The short novel Transit is about a different conflict, namely that of generations. Arnold Cluysman, the name suggests a life of solitude, kluizenaar, related to English "cloister", is a demented old man, who is piecing together his life and intellectual legacy. Fragments of his writing suggest he belongs to the generation that rebelled in the late 1960s, striving for new ideals in 1968 in Paris, which became known in Dutch culture as "De verbeelding aan de macht", by the Dutch journalist Bob Groen. It reflects the ideal of the hippies that society can be reshaped in any possible way, that reality follows the imagination. By portraying Cluysman as a decrepit old man, Haasse shows how far and forgotten the ideals of the 1960s and 70s now are. In the early 1990s, Haasse was early to see where things are going. The idealism of the young generation, to drop out from school, to go to Paris, has brought ruin. Her school friend Daan, a junky, left on the street to freeze to death, her other school friend, Alma, who cannot be found, rumoured to be a prostitute. The novel follows Iks Westervliet, her life, upon her return to Amsterdam: no friends, no money, no job, no future, not welcome. The only jobs she can get are taking care of old people (Dutch: Thuiszorg) and garbage collector, the worst. That is the life of Iks, which can alternatively be spelled as "X" and her generation. Generation X.

Transit is a very bleak novella, which is also a time document. The most optimistic part is perhaps the title, which suggests that nothing remains the same. Generation X may be in transit on the way to a (better) future. As the heydays of Cluysman's generation were forgotten in just under 25 years, likewise, hopefully, Generation X may find itself better situated 25 years on. ( )
3 vote edwinbcn | Jul 15, 2013 |
I read this book a long time ago. Frankly speaking, I do not really remember what it is about. It hasn't impressed me very much.
So when another copy of this book came along in a book box from Moem, I made it available for BookCrossing as well as BookMooch.
And, guess what? It'll go on a journey to England... Who would have thought that! ( )
  BoekenTrol71 | Mar 31, 2013 |
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Voor mijn kleindochter Roosje Polak
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Zwarte wollen leggings had ze aan, zwarte rijglaarzen, en over een zwarte trui die tot op haar heupen hing een kort jek van zwart kunstleer.
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