French Literature: Eux Sur La Photo


  • Author:  Hélène Gestern
  • Genre: epistolary novel
  • Title:  Eux Sur La Photo
  • Published:  (2011)
  • Table of Contents:  part 1 (chapters 1-8);  part 2 (chapters 9-12);  300 pages
  • Publisher: Arléa
  • Timeline: March 2007 – April 2008   correspondence
  • Setting: France
  • Language: French
  • Quote: Part 1. “Tous les images disparaîront” – Annie Ernaux
  • Quote: Part 2.  François Villon first 2 lines of poem “Frères humains”
  • “Frères humains, qui après nous vivez,
    N’ayez les cœurs contre nous endurcis


  • Hélene places an ad with snapshot in  the newspaper…like a message in a bottle.
  • She is searching for information about her mother who died when she was 3 yr.
  • The only evidence she has  are two names written on the back of a photograph
  • Hélène receives a reaction from Stéphane.
  • He recognizes his father.

Genre:    epistolary novel

  • The novel is written as a series of documents. (letters, diary entries)
  • The epistolary form can add greater realism.
  • The correspondence  mimics the workings of real life.
  • It is able to reveal different points of view without the use of an  omniscient narrator.


  • “This family silence is a poison that contaminates all that it touches.”( pg 47)
  • “Photo’s seem to distribute one’s different roles in the memories of others” (pg 141)
  • Despite the photo taken of her […]  this woman is no longer there” (pg 177)
  • “One has cast off the remains of 2 separate entities…finally accepting to become one together.”  ( pg 261)


Nathalie has two different  personalities.

  • Name when she is with her family: Natalia, Natacha or Tacha Zabvine (NZ)
  • Name after marriage:  Nathalie Hivert (is Russian….becomes more French)

Strong point:

  • The structure of the story  was very original.
  • 2 parts:  The shadow   The light
  • 12 chapters containing the correspondence between…
  • Hélène (39 yr)  and Stéphane (44 yr).
  • Each chapter starts with the description of a photograph.

Part 1:  L’ombre -  secrets –  yet photo’s are awash with sunlight. (1-8)

Part 2:  La lumière  – revelations (letters and journals) ( 9-12)


  1. 1971 – NZ 30 yrs -3 people at a  tennis tournament – countryside – “en plein soleil’
  2. 1970 – Pierre –  auto-portrait – Interlaken chalet – “le soleil oblique”
  3. 1963 – NZ 22 yrs – ID-photo for drivers permit
  4. 1955 – NZ 14 yrs – 15 other people – in  Russian Orthodox church
  5. 1959 – NZ 18 yrs –  5 guests at table – dense foliage, garden canopy – ‘le chaud soleil’
  6. 1968 – NZ 27 yrs – she is 8 months pregnant - sunny terrace  – ‘soleil de l’apres-midi’
  7. 19??NO people –  beachfront, large hotel – ‘le reflet intense du soleil’
  8. 1970 – woman, man (Pierre?)  his 2 sons ? – ‘un halo de lumière douce’
  9. 19?? – NZ is sitting in front of a chapel - autumn countryside - ‘lumière rare’
  10. 1969 – 4 persons: Natalia, baby Hélène,  grandparents   Zabvine – family garden 
  11. 19??NO peoplewinter scene, virgin snow - ‘soleil pâle de janvier’
  12. 1971 – NZ 30 yrs –  2 people Natalia and Pierre - seated portrait


  • Nathalie’s  expression  changes.
  • Photo’s : 1,3,4, 5.
  • playful ( regard malicieuse) - sullen ( renfrongée) – blasé ( uninterested) – clair (clear glance)
  • Nathalie’s  expression  changes.
  • Photo’s : 9, 12.
  • melancholy (regard sourd et petrifié)
  • calm with the certitude of being loved ( regard calme, la certitude tranquille d’être aimée)


  • Strong point:  Hélène Gestern uses the photo’s to introduce the characters through…
  • ….expressions, gestures, clothes, poses, lighting and background.
  • Strong point: The writer is a silent puppeteer.
  • The characters  are acting out a story in snapshots but never showing the strings attached.
  • Last thoughts:
  • I decided to read  the book in a different way.
  • Firstly, I studied the pages describing the photographs.
  • I was able to pick up some clues hear and there.
  • Hélène Gestern has  a remarkable eye for detail!
  • Through the external (photo’s) I discovered the internal.
  • Then I read the correspondence between Hélène and Stéphane to
  • ….reconstruct the puzzle of their famliy histories.
  • (No spoilers)
  • This book was a delight to read. I was captivated right from the beginning!
  • It is very well written in accessible French.
  • Great book to choose to polish your French language skills.

Score: 4




Posted by on March 30, 2015 in Uncategorized




  • Author:  Ron Chernow
  • Genre: biography
  • Title:  Titan
  • Published:  (1998)
  • Table of Contents:    35 chapters, 676 pages
  • Publisher: Random House
  • Timeline: 1839-1937

Title:    Titan

  • Rockefeller is appropriately categorized among a select group of men
  • who became what are called “titans” of American industry.
  • There are references to giants and to John D. Rockefeller as a titan.
  • “I come of a strong family, men of unusual strength, a family of giants.”  (ch 2).
  • Yet ironically  we see a diminutive man in the family photo’s.
  • “Rockefeller created the model for the vertically integrated oil giants
  • that would straddle the globe in the twentieth century”. (ch 16)
  • Chernow’s use of the term “titan” has nothing to do with Rockefeller’s physical stature.
  • It has everything to do with JDR’ s ability to
  • shape the nation’s largest and most influential industry.
  • Oil.

Characteristics:    JDR

  • JDR experienced a very strong Baptist indoctrination by his mother, Eliza.
  • JDR was the Protestant work ethic in its purest form.
  • “Because prosperity was a sign of future salvation…”  (pg 55)
  • JDR was convinced he had a God-given talent for making money.
  • He was obligated to develop it. (pg 55)
  • Economic slumps were not part of a business cycle,
  • …but divine punishment for a society grown lax.
  • Scary thoughts!


  • Weak point:  If you are just  interested in the ‘personality’ of JDR  the book is too long.
  • Weak point: John D Rockefeller Sr. is  unfortunately, not all that interesting….
  • …just ruthless, secretive, competitive, conspiring.
  • He stood his ground when pushed, cajoled his competitors in evangelical tones.
  • He operated in a climate of fear and outwitted his potential competitors.
  • Chernow refers to the novel ‘David Harum’ which captures the essence of Rockefeller:
  • “Do unto others as they would do unto you…..and do it first.”
  • JDR  had one goal: to be the richest man on earth.
  • JDR is held to be the wealthiest American in recorded history!
  • Strong point: The book is very well written  and carefully documented.
  • Last thoughts: I have been trying to read this book for 15 years.
  • I used an audible book, kindle reader, print book to keep myself motivated and reading.
  • The book was at no point uplifting. I felt myself dreading each page.
  • JDR felt  like  a dinosaur, enormous and extinct.
  • Despite my feelings I did give the book a relatively good score.
  • I think it depends on the reader and what he/she wants to learn.
  • I wanted to know more about  the man…not the business.
  • John D. Rockefeller Sr. is not my idea of a great dinner date.

Score 3:

Twitter thoughts:

  • Father William Avery was a con artist,
  • JDR he was richest man in the world and
  • grandson Nelson was vice-president USA.
  • Anything is possible!
  • #amreading “Titan” (Chernow)
  • Reading bio “Titan’ (Rockefeller) and his obsession getting the best bargain in business.
  • I even hear his voice in the grocery store!
  • #PennyWise
  • ‘Titan” (R. Chernow) is the slowest moving book.
  • I started it on 19 March 2000.
  • #StillAmReading.
  • I will finish this book!
  • #NeedMoreCoffee























Posted by on March 26, 2015 in Uncategorized


Olivia Laing: To The River


  • Author:  Olivia Laing
  • Genre: non-fiction
  • Title:  To The River
  • Published:  (2011)
  • Publisher: Canongate Books
  • Table of Contents:   8 chapters,  280 pages
  • Timeline: 1 week in June 2009
  • Setting: River Ouse, Sussex England


  • I started this book based only on the experience I had reading Laing’s  previous book
  • Laing did an excellent job in Trip to Echo Spring revealing the effect of alcohol on six great writers and their works.
  • Unfortunately To the River did not live up to my expectations.
  • In the wake of a broken relationship Laing decides to rejuvenate her life with a journey.
  • Laing  uses of the term “to the river”  to introduce her plan to walk
  • …  from the source in Lower Beeding West Sussex of River Ouse to the mouth in Newhaven, East Sussex.
  • Weak point: travelogue  about the River Ouse was too unstructured for my taste.
  • I particularly wanted to see how Laing would fold Virginia Woolf  in to the book. (suicide in River Ouse 1941)
  • This book has less  to do with reflections about Laing or Virgina Woolf ….
  • ….and everything to do with the minutiae of  the land, birds, trees, sunlight, marshland and anecdotes.
  • Pages were filled with references to…
  • cows, straw, sky, dust, breeze, roses licking at the hedge, falling petals, swimming stars…
  • It was a bit too much.
  • Weak point: I missed the sparkling style filled with warmth and humor  that  I enjoyed in Trip to Echo Spring.
  • Last thoughts: I expected more personal reflection about the writer or Virgina Woolf during this country trek.
  • Perhaps it would be interesting to read Wild by Cheryl Strayed.
  • In Wild I hope to discover a woman who attempts to cleanse her soul during an arduous hike.
  • I didn’t find  that in this book.

Score: 1















Posted by on March 24, 2015 in Uncategorized


Classic biography : Flaubert, A Life


  • Author:  Frederick Brown
  • Genre: biography
  • Title:  Flaubert, A Life
  • Published:  (2006)
  • Table of Contents: 24 chapters, 570 pages
  • Publisher: Random House
  • Timeline:  1821 – 1880
  • SettingRouen, France

 Strong point:

  • There are many references to Mme Bovary.
  • The characters of Emma and Charles are leached from individuals in Flaubert’s life.
  • Eugène Delamar was a former student of Flaubert’s fathers wife Delphine (character Madame Bovary)
  • Memoirs  de Mme Ludovica:  account of the amorous and financial extravagances of Louise Pradier, the wife of the sculptor James Pradir.
  • Flaubert’s relationship with Louise Colet was an important influence.

Strong point:

  •  Information about Faubert’s family was revealing:
  • Mother: overbearing/protective
  • Father: distant
  • Caroline beloved sister
  • Achille older brother – Gustave’s complete opposite.
  • Friendships were more important to Flaubert than family:
  • Le Poittevin’s -neighbors (Laure, Maupassant’s mother and Alfred her brother).
  • Marie-Sophie  admirer of his book Mme Bovary (pg 347-355) very touching correspondance
  • Juliet Herbert (Flaubert’s niece’s governess) (pg 409-411) intimate liaison was very hush…hush.
  • George Sand 62 yr – Flaubert 45 yr…feel a special maternal tenderness (pg 413-416)
  • Louis Bouilhet – Flaubert’s literary compass (pg 436)
  • Guy de Maupassant – avuncular friendship ( pg 533)

 Symbols:  ( I missed  completely  while reading Mme Bovary !)

  • Food either sickens Emma or is part of her lustful farewell
  • Flaubert used gluttony at  barnyard wedding feast (pg 290) and anorexic gluttony of Emma’s last supper, poison (pg 320)
  • Mirrors and windowpanes give Emma a reflection of reality or  when shattered her disappearing illusions.
  • Bird: Emma’s life and death associated with the coach ‘L’Hirondellle’ (the swallow) she rides to Rouen

Voice of Flaubert:   Good advice we could always follow.

  • “Commit yourself of an ‘exhausting’ schedule of work.
  • Read the great masters, but while doing so try to understand what makes them great, to draw near to their soul” (pg 353)

 Chapter 20:

  • It was wonderful to read about the  Franco-Prussian war (1870-1871) through the eyes of Flaubert.
  • After having read Le Débacle by Zola I could compare the different perspectives.
  • Flaubert reveals more about the siege of  Paris and the days of the Paris Commune than Zola did.


  • Weak point: The book is a long read filled with details that did not interest me. (pg 128) ‘Flaubert wore his hair long’.
  • Flaubert’s jaunts through Corsica, Egypt and Syria are nice to know but not essential reading.  (ch 6-11-12)
  • Last thoughts:  This book was well worth reading.
  • The book starts slowly, but  #DoNotAbandon even though you want to!
  • I enjoyed the new  insights about Mme. Bovary.
  • I completely missed the importance of feasts (wedding, ballroom party) and theater!
  • Emma ‘plays’ briefly  the perfect spouse as she one ‘played’ the perfect young novice at a convent school.
  • She is an actress living life ‘as if’  ( pg 290)
  • 25% about trivial details, other local people and historical setting 1820-1880.
  • 40% about Flaubert  and his books and their reviews:
  • Mme Bovary, Salammbo, Education Sentimentale, Un Coeur Simple.
  • 35% about Flaubert’s family and close entourage.
  • The biography of Guy de Maupasant  by  Frédéric Martinez was completely different.
  • It was more about the man and  to-the-point.
  • This book was of higher literary quality and that made the reading so enjoyable,

Score: 4



Posted by on March 16, 2015 in Uncategorized


De Consequenties Shortlisted Libris Prize 2015

Opmaak 1

Author:  Nina Weijers
Genre:    novel
Title:      De Consequenties
Published: 2014
Table of Contents:   287 pages
Published  by Atlas Contact
Timeline:  confusing
Setting:  Amsterdam
Theme:  ??  I have no idea!


  • This was just not my kind of book.
  • Art student, Minnie, agrees to be photographed  for three weeks as the basis of an art project.
  • She feels prying eyes everywhere while ice skating, helping a farmer with his sheep and lambs or vistiing a museum.
  • Subplot: relationship  between mother and  daughter  who has questions about her father.
  • The book was bursting with philosophical thoughts:  What is happiness? She  felt a residu of loss. (pg 55-56)
  • Weak point: The book is lacking in plot and characters. Bizarre
  • Weak point:  I tried to follow the 21 days of the ‘art project’. That was hard enough.
  • Then I was confronted with flashbacks to  2011, 2007, 1984, 1982, 2012, 1991, 1981, 2012.
  • Weak point: I still cannot understand why the author goes completely out off the narrative on pages 146 – 159.
  • She tells us  the story  B.J. Ader ( father) member of the Dutch Resistance in WWII.
  • Then we read about  his son, B.J. Ader jr a young Dutch conceptual  artist  who was lost at sea in 1975.
  • Last thoughts: 
  • Nina Weijers has potential….at such a young age and already nominated for a prestigious literary prize!
  • The story was intense, fragmented. She certainly has an opinion about conceptual art.
  • I hope she decides to work with an editor.
  • Sometimes it is hard to accept not everyone feels that your best writing is just not the best for the book.
  • Less can really be more!
  • Still, it is only my opinion and I hope more people read her work and decide for themselves.
  • Nominated for Libris Prize 2015… was definitely not my choice.
  • I had to push myself to finish the book.
  • This is Weijer’s debut novel, I’m sure there will be more books in the future.
  • “Het ga je goed,  kiddo” ! (pg 285)

Score: 1



Posted by on March 14, 2015 in Uncategorized


De Stamhouder (The Heir)


  • Author:  Alexander Munninghoff
  • Genre: family chronicle ( memoir)
  • Title:  De Stamhouder  ( The Heir)
  • Published:  2014
  • Table of Contents:   3 parts,  44 chapters, pages 330
  • Published by: Prometheus
  • Setting: Riga, Letland, The Netherlands, Germany
  • Timeline: 1932 – 1999
  • Cover:  Grandfather and grandson   (‘de Oude Heer’  and  author)
  • Theme: ambition,  rise of a patriarch from  small time dealer to business oligarch

Part 1:  Grandfather: powerful captian of industry, political manipulator, staunch Catholic.

  • Patriarch of the Munninghoff family the ‘Oude Heer’ (the old man) is a tough, outspoken man who has always maintained firm control over his business deals  after WW I – and during WWII  as well as his family.
  • He feels his family is falling to pieces  but through the sheer  force of his personality and  connections in Dutch politics and  the Catholic Church he is determined to see his wealth survive and be delegated to his grandson
  • Alexander Munninghoff ( Pozan, 1944) is the  heir… the ‘Stamhouder’.

Part 2:  Son: tormented because he is Dutch by birth with a German soul whose heart is in Riga, Letland.

  • Frans Munninghoff was forced to go to Dutch Catholic boarding school by is father as preparation for his role as heir.
  • Having lost all ambition, Frans shocks his father by joining  Waffen SS’ers during WW II.
  • For grandfather this was the point of no return. His son is not worthy of the family empire.
  • Frans drifts from place to place, woman to woman  seeking blissful oblivion provided by sufficient amounts of alcohol.

Part 3:  Grandson:  ‘the prize’ ( the author, journalist, correspondent  Haagsche Courant  Moscow)

  • I felt  the grandson was a ‘piece on a chessboard’.
  • He was being moved, kidnapped and  reunited with family members without controlling his own destiny.
  • Finally  at 18 years of age he is his own man and decides to search for his silent  mother.
  • She was manipulated ‘out of the family’ by grandfather years ago.


  • It takes great courage to reveal the ambition, love and hate that has consumed three family generations.
  • Munninghoff has managed to put into words the pain of private life.
  • Strong point:  the backdrop of ‘wheeling and dealing’ that took place  1930 – 1939  in  Riga, Letland.
  • Strong point:  Munninghoff succeeds in describing the  days  shortly after 05 May 1945. The Netherlands has been  liberated but in the chaos  many “old scores were settled’  (NSB)  for tipping off the Germans about members of the resistance.
  • Strong point: Grandfather uses his ‘connections’ in politics and in the judiciary to undertake damage control.
  • The  family must not be confronted with the repercussions about
  • ….  Frans,  the SS’er who is the son of Munninghoff, a very patriotic businessman.
  • Last thoughts:  This was an excellent book about  people, war and  the greed and ambition that can ruin a family.
  • It is difficult to express how moving a book has been to others who are not familar with the Dutch mentality.
  • NL  is a small part of the world that  has many writers who have produced great literature.
  • Many years I have been looking  to France for new books…..‘the grass is always greener on the other side’
  • Now  after having read Joris Luyedijk’s Dit Kan Niet Waar Zijn, Adriaan van Dis’s   Ik Kom Terug  and Munninghoff,
  • I have decided that  there is much to discover  right here  ‘in my own backyard’ !

Score 5 +++

alexander munninghof teaser


Posted by on March 13, 2015 in Uncategorized


Ik Kom Terug Shortlisted Libris Prize 2015


  • Author:  Adriaan van Dis
  • Genre: Novel  (tragic comedy)
  • Title:  Ik Kom Terug ( I’m Coming Back)
  • Published:  2014
  • Table of Contents:   58 chapters, pages 284
  • Published by: Atlas Contact
  • Setting: The Netherlands
  • Timeline: 2 years  + flashbacks
  • Theme: relationship between mother and son


  • After a silence a mother suddenly starts talking to her son about love and betrayal.
  • Her son will be her biographer under one condition.
  • He must give her a gentle death.
  • First sentence:  “We stood opposite each other, my mother and I.”
  • Last sentence:  “We stood opposite each other, my mother and I. She nodded”

Title:    Ik Kom Terug – reference on page 171

  • “Soon my body will have no shadow, but I’ll still be here.
  • Don’t tidy up the flat, don’t move anything…because I’m coming back.
  • Leave everything as it is for at least a week, otherwise I will get lost.”

Quotes: (Dutch – English)

  • Rouwkaarten:  “Er lagen meer doden tussen de mandarijntjes op   tafel” (pg 72)
  • Rode trainingspak: “Ze stond erop het glimpak onmiddellijk te passen…
  • …mijn moeder als Hollandse tomaat – smakeloos.” (pg 88)
  • Opruimwoede: “Ik wil na mijn dood niet bij de kringloop belanden.” (pg 82)
  • Death notices:  They were lying in a bowl of tangerines on the table
  • Red tracksuit: She wanted to try it on ….she looked like a Dutch tomato, tasteless.
  • Spring cleaning:  I don’t want to find my things at a 2nd hand charity shop…after I’m dead.

Favorite chapters:

  • 15 – Spring cleaning
  • 26 – Truffels from bakery ‘Huize van Laack’ vs cookies  from Albert Heijn supermarket
  • 39 – Memories of 1289 days in Japanese prison camp (mother and 3 daughters)
  • 40….until the end.  Unforgettable.


  • Time flies by while I read this book.
  • I am so immersed in the story I can’t even jot down my thoughts.
  • I’ll leave them in my head…just for me.
  • Adriaan Van Dis describes his aging ‘feisty’  mother.
  • Marriage, 3 daughters, Dutch East India officer:
  • Mother drifts into the world of Java, the ‘Stille Kracht’  (hidden force).
  • Common law 2nd husband, Dutch countryside:
  • Mother with her son (Van Dis) who feels like an low hanging apple on the family tree.
  • Time is nipping at mother’s  heels.
  • She she has a few things she must do.
  • But at 98 years of age she needs her son’s help.
  • They were never close ….
  • ….now it seems they need each other more than ever.
  • Last thoughts:
  • This book took my breath away as no other book has….ever.
  • Life coming to an end does not have to be sad.
  • Adriaan Van Dis gives us  a very  touching and humorous look at his mother.
  • She is getting ready for her last trip.
  • I am convinced….this  book  WILL WIN LIBRIS PRIZE 2015 !

Score: 5 ++++++

Van Dis images


Posted by on March 9, 2015 in Uncategorized


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