Book recommendations from the Writers Unlimited team
We wrapped up the year 2021 in a festive way by reflecting on our favourite books and films on our Instagram, Facebook and Twitter channels. Curious to know which stories we just couldn't get out of our minds?
Fleur Jeras, programmamaker en coördinator vertalingen, tipt 'Crying in H Mart' van Michelle Zauner.
'I read this book at the last minute, just before the end of the year.' This autobiography by Michelle Zauner, founder of indie rock band Japanese Breakfast, covers the period when her mother is declared incurably ill and eventually dies. Zauner finds the connection with her Korean mother in their shared love of Korean food, and when the grief and dismay become too much for her, she throws herself into cooking and spending hours making the dishes from her childhood memories. She is honest and vulnerable and does not spare herself in this beautiful book where I regularly had to swallow my tears and felt the need to immediately catch the train so I could be close to my mother.'
Ellen Walraven, director of Writers Unlimited, recommends 'The Stone Gods' by Jeanette Winterson.
"Many of her books I devoured, but never 'The Stone Gods'. While waiting for her latest collection of essays, Joelle pointed me to this 2007 novel. Winterson cleverly links three stories: that of a club of outcasts on The Blue Planet, a trip to Easter Island, and a trip through post-war Wreckcity. With her sharp language and brilliant aphorisms (Arnon Grunberg-like), she draws you into an intelligent play with realities, times, genres and touches on subjects that are topical now; future-early writer as she is.
Prepare yourself for beautiful love scenes between the main character Billy and the robot Spike. And especially the dismantling of that love -including a screwdriver-, while both women draw parallels between the universe, consciousness, our mistakes, our loves."
Bert-Jan Zoet, head of communications for the Winternachten festival, recommends 'Snow' by Orhan Pamuk
Sometimes you start reading a book because you have been to the place where it is set. On a trip I ended up in Kars, in the east of Turkey. Orhan Pamuk set his 2002 novel 'Snow' there and the book effortlessly took me back to that place. Pamuk describes current events in this intersection of cultures and religions, and is such a great storyteller that you think you recognise all sorts of things. You get lost in his descriptions of injustice, infatuation and espionage, even if you have not been there yourself or have not seen anything like what Pamuk predicts in 'Snow'.
Joëlle Koorneef, programme maker and editorial assistant, recommends 'Struggle and Metamorphosis of a Woman' by Édouard Louis.
I took 'Struggle and Metamorphosis of a Woman' with me on summer holiday because the little book just fitted into my already enormous reading pile. On a plastic garden chair in the Czech countryside, I marvelled that this true story of class and sexism in the life of an unhappy French woman reminded me so much of my grandmother's life, of her struggles, which I knew only from stories. I shared this with him at ILFU, after which he signed my book with 'Pour Joëlle, our struggle.
'Struggle and metamorphosis of a woman' is a beautiful love letter to the complicated relationship between a mother and her homosexual son who suffer under the patriarchy. The personal is political, as it turns out.'
Ingrid Huijsman, communications specialist at Writers Unlimited, recommends 'de Filosoof de Hond en de Bruiloft' by Barbara Stok.'One of my favourite comic books of this year. An incredibly clever piece of storytelling about the quest and contradictory ideas of Hipparchia, a young female philosopher in the fourth century BC, which are also surprisingly relevant to our time. And so fresh and vividly drawn. Stok's clear, minimalist drawing style supports her story perfectly.
The space that she dares to take up in the picture gives the reader time to chew on the content: happiness is not determined by material possession or status, but by being independent of it. These are questions that are also very topical nowadays. Moreover, the book contributes to raising awareness about gender inequality in historiography, because name just one other female philosopher from antiquity. Laudatory reviews and sold out within a week: well deserved. And watch out, the second edition is in the making!
Tineke van Manen, business director of Writers Unlimited, recommends 'Altijd zondag' by Wil Demandt.
"I never cook, my partner is a good cook. Still, reading a cookbook is sometimes delicious: Dedikkevandam - from potato to sweetbreads, Spicy chef, or the delightful Altijd zondag - de keuken van Wil Demandt. One time I had dinner on my birthday in Wil Demandt's restaurant Bordewijk on the Noordermarkt, and I will never forget it...
So besides Vijf vrolijke verhalen by Adriaan van Dis, Wat er werkelijk is by Nelleke Noordervliet and "The dream of the red room" by Cao Xueqin my recommendation is: Altijd zondag - de keuken van Wil Demandt."
Gerlinda Heywegen, film editor and programme maker at Writers Unlimited, recommends 'È stata la mano di Dio' (The Hand of God) by Paolo Sorrentino.
"It's a good sign if immediately after seeing a film, you watch that other special film by the same director. After 'È stata la mano di Dio' - released in the Netherlands with the ugly title 'The Hand of God' - I immediately put on 'La grande bellezza' at home with my jacket still on.
The hand of God refers, of course, to Diego Armando Maradona's hand, with which he scored for the Argentine team against archenemy Great Britain at the 1986 World Cup. That handball was not disallowed. Of course it was not!
Maradona's arrival in Napoli, where the story takes place, is the thread on which Sorrentino hangs a beautiful family portrait. As in 'La grande bellezza', he strings together seemingly unconnected scenes with a naturalness that left me in the dark with admiration. It gave me a feeling that I hadn't had in the cinema for a long time: that there is a world to discover on the silver screen, that there are makers who know how to stimulate your imagination so enormously and that everything, everything can be told on film."
Meltem Halaceli, programme maker at Writers Unlimited, recommends '�ead Girls' by Selva Almada.
"I took Selva Almada's literary novel Dead Girls to my short writing retreat and read it with horror. Almada describes in sharp images the femicides in Argentina, for which she goes back to her youth. Those early murders of girls by equally young perpetrators who were never punished leave such a mark on her life that thirty years later she concludes she was purely lucky to still be alive. With this novel Almada demonstrates that it is possible to write about femicide in a literary style without diluting its horror or urgency."
Yasmin Veenman, communications specialist at Writers Unlimited, recommends 'Een mogelijk begin van veel' by Hester van Hasselt and Bianca Sistermans.
"Een mogelijk begin van veel is a collection of interviews, a photo book and a poetry anthology all in one. The book is beautifully designed (great for the coffee table!) and gives an insight into the thinking and working methods of twenty-nine Dutch-speaking poets, including Radna Fabias, Lieke Marsman and Alfred Schaffer.
The book is full of poetic wisdom. For example, this quote by Bernke Klein Zandvoort stuck in my mind: 'Sometimes I find it annoying that I doubt so much, but in the end I think doubting is the most beautiful thing there is, because it brings you so much, because it offers so many points of view.'
Highly recommended for the poetry lover. A possible beginning of much for the poetry beginner."
Ellen Geertse, production manager at Writers Unlimited, recommends 'Exit West' by Mohsin Hamid.
'When Mohsin Hamid was invited to the Winternachten festival in 2018, I started reading his book Exit West. A book I couldn't put down once I started.
It is a love story in times of migration, in which an uncertain future and leaving behind what you love is described in such a real way, that it feels like you are there and experience the journey to a safer place with the main characters.
I would say: call your local bookshop and order a copy quickly. Or watch the Winternachten programme with Mohsin Hamid in the archive on our website.'
We conclude our list of recommendations with something to look forward to! On 18 January 2022 Nisrine Mbarki's poetry collection 'Oeverloos' will be published. Apart from being a poet, she is also a programme maker for Writers Unlimited.