On Tuesday, May 8, 2012, at City Lights Bookstore, translator Damion Searls and author Peter Orner discussed and read from the work of Nescio (Jan Hendrik Frederik Grönloh) to celebrate the release of Amsterdam Stories (introduction by Joseph O’Neill, translated from the Dutch by Damion Searls, published by NYRB Books).
Jan Hendrik Frederik Grönloh was a successful Dutch businessman, executive of the Holland-Bombay Trading Company and father of four, with a secret life: under the pseudonym Nescio (Latin for “I don’t know”), he wrote a series of short stories that went unrecognized at the time but that are now widely considered the best prose ever written in Dutch.
Nescio’s stories look back on the enthusiasms of youth with an achingly beautiful melancholy comparable to the work of Alain-Fournier and F. Scott Fitzgerald. He writes of young dreams from the perspective of adult resignation, but re-inhabits youthful ambition and adventure so fully that the later perspective is the one thrown into doubt—and with language as fresh as when it was written a century ago. His last long story, written and set during World War II, is a remarkable evocation of the Netherlands in wartime and a hymn to our capacity to take refuge in memory and imagination.
This is great literature—capturing the Dutch landscape and scenes of Amsterdam with a remarkable poetry, and expressing the spirit of the country of businessmen and van Gogh, merchants and visionaries. This first translation of Nescio into English—all the major works and a broad selection of his shorter stories—is a literary event.
About the authors:
Nescio (1882–1961) was the pseudonym of Jan Hendrik Frederik Grönloh. His reputation as one of the most important modern Dutch writers was only established after his death.
Joseph O’Neill was born in Cork, Ireland. He writes regularly for The Atlantic Monthly and his works include the novels This Is the Life, The Breezes and Netherland, winner of the PEN/Faukner Award for Fiction, and the nonfiction book Blood-Dark Track: A Family History. He lives with his family in New York City.
Damion Searls is the author of What We Were Doing and Where We Were Going and an award-winning translator, most recently of Rainer Maria Rilke’s The Inner Sky: Poems, Notes, Dreams, Jon Fosse’s Aliss at the Fire, and Hans Keilson’s Comedy in a Minor Key. NYRB Classics has published his abridged edition of Henry David Thoreau’s Journal and will publish his translations of André Gide’s Marshlands.
Peter Orner is the author of of the novels Love and Shame and Love and The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo and the short story collection Esther Stories. His short fiction has been published in the Atlantic Monthly, The Paris Review, as well as the Pushcart Prize Anthology. He has co-edited Hope Deferred: Narratives of Zimbabwean Lives and edited Underground America: Narratives of Undocumented Lives a collection of true stories about undocumented workers in America, which are both part of the Voice of Witness series from McSweeney’s.