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May 2014

Taboos: New Dutch and Flemish Writing

Image: Trees De Mits, BIRD ICELAND, 2009. Photograph on Dibond, 34cm x 45cm, Courtesy of the artist.

This month we present Dutch and Flemish writing on taboos. Despite its stereotype as the ultimate permissive society, the Netherlands still considers many activities and behavior off-limits and not to be discussed. In their responses to violations ranging from murder to incivility, the characters depicted here reveal the complexity of this often-misunderstood society. Notions of motherhood go awry when Elke Geurts's perfectionist finds her expectations upended, and Esther Gerritsen's dying woman tries to connect with her self-involved daughter. Addictions drive (or derail) many characters, from Thijs de Boer's doped-up and drunken brothers to Ton Rozeman's porn fiend. Relationships are skewed, as Sanneke van Hassel's widower falls for an elusive woman and Yves Petry's sociopath commits murder and more.  Domestic life proves anything but tranquil, as Mensje van Keulen's angry husband storms out of the house and into a nightmare, Walter van den Berg's penitent abuser remembers the stepson he loved, and Manon Uphoff's writer turns her dysfunctional family into a successful career. Maartje Wortel's cancer sufferer swears by his illness. The telephone plays a role in Peter Terrin's story of an unexpected response to a telephone solicitor and Arnon Grunberg's recording of a cagey long-distance conversation. Anneliese Verbeke's young woman deals with an unconventional grooming issue. And Anton Valens's home care aide is driven wild by his elderly charge. Guest editors Victor Schiferli and Sanneke van Hassel contribute an illuminating introduction. We think this issue is definitely something to talk about. We thank the Nederlands Letterenfonds // Dutch Foundation for Literature, the Dutch Culture USA program by the Consulate General of the Netherlands in New York, Flanders House, and the Flemish Literature Fund for their support.

Elsewhere, Madeline Earp introduces the poetry of Liu Xia, who writes under house arrest while her husband, Liu Xiaobo, serves his prison sentence. And South Korea's great Ko Un pens a howl of grief and rage about the recent ferry disaster.

Safely Home: Short Prose from the Netherlands and Flanders

What are the things that can’t be mentioned?


“I’ve lost Mom’s grave at cards.”

The Way to the Sea

It hadn’t been moving as it was getting pushed out.


"Virgin eh? If you shout I’ll cut your throat."

Ten Floors

The Internet no longer suffices; real life beckons.

Dead Men Always Win

"So you wouldn’t care if I crashed my car into a tree?"


"You’re not likely to live a long time with something like this."

The Virgin Marino

Marino picks up the two lengths of rope on the table and ties the man’s wrists to the rings.

White Feather

I said, “I love you." “Oh, my sweet,” she replied.

Fucked Up

Some stories I make up and others gnaw their way out from inside.

from “Tooth and Nail”

“Did you tell him? My boyfriend is at a conference about the Holocaust.”


I work out like I swear: plenty and often.

For an Easy Life

She said that he could at least have the politeness to let her finish.

The Bearded Lady

“One of us, one of us,” the photos chanted.

The Ohio Hat

I passed by the bed from time to time to check whether he was still alive.


Book Reviews

Jonas Bengtsson’s “A Fairy Tale”

Reviewed by Alexa Weiko

A Fairy Tale starts with a young boy, his father, and the political assassination of Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme.

Wilma Stockenström’s “The Expedition to the Baobab Tree”

Reviewed by Michelle Kyoko Crowson

The story unsettles from the outset, as we are immediately plunged into the protagonist’s turbulent inner world.

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