Friday, 18 June 2010

Foreign Language Friday: The Book of Everything (and Book blogger hop)

Dear Blog,
Before I start with Foreign Language Friday, let me say welcome to all the people visiting by way of the Book Blogger Hop, hosted by Jen at Crazy for Books.  Hello, and nice to meet you. Welcome to my humble weblog.
Now on to Foreign Language Friday.  Today I'll be talking about Guus Kuijer's excellent The Book of Everything.

Name: The Book of Everything (originally called Het boek van alle dingen)
First Published In: Dutch
Translated By: John Nieuwenhuizen
Summary (from Goodreads): Thomas can see things no one else can see. Tropical fish swimming in the canals. The magic of Mrs. Van Amersfoort, the Beethoven-loving witch next door. The fierce beauty of Eliza with her artificial leg. And the Lord Jesus, who tells him, "Just call me Jesus." Thomas records these visions in his "Book of Everything." They comfort him when his father beats him, when the angels weep for his mother's black eyes. And they give him the strength to finally confront his father and become what he wants to be when he grows up: "Happy."

Review: Because the picture quality is so rubbish, you can't read all the words swirling around the outside of this editions' cover.  It's all praise from newspapers and websites, and this extraordinary book really deserves every word that spins around the bright yellow cover.  However, despite all the critical acclaim, nobody I know seems to have read or even heard of it.  Which is a shame because it's great.

This is, as the title suggests, a book about everything.  Mostly, it's about emotions,and people, and religion, and where it all fits into the world.  It's true in this case that less is more: The Book of Everything has more meaning than a 1000 paged tome about the history of the world, or even Sophie's World, because The Book of Everything is on ground level with people.

  My favourite characters were Mrs van Amersfoort, the quirky "witch" from next door, and Margot, Thomas' older sister.  Margot was particularly awesome, even though she was portrayed as a giggly suck-up to their father, she snaps out of it about 3/4 of the way through the book when she's had enough of their obsessively religious and abusive father.  Go Margot!

Thomas was heartbreaking.  Mostly because of his innocence.  I'm not sure if his naïveté is actually realistic for a 9-year-old, but it his extraordinary way of looking at the world and the strange things he sees is still slightly heart-wrenching, but on the other hand he's utterly charming and sweet.  For example, the letter he writes to Eliza, a sixteen-year-old with a leather leg who lives down the street.  I wish he was my little brother (I would happily swap him for the 4-year-old  Star Wars obsessed jedi-in-training who is currently my brother).   He's so honest and funny.  I loved the lines, "she was religious, but not too badly", and "Thomas went to a Christian boys' school, so naturally he swore all the time with his friends, but he had never heard an adult swear" (or something like that, but I don't have the book with me at the moment so I can't quote it directly). 
So  much like The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, his innocence makes the tragic things (his father beating him and his mother, etc) seem even  more horrifying, even though they're not too graphically described.  So it's hard to tell if this really is, as a quote inside the book says, a book for both old and young.  

There's a lot in this book about religion, including the fact that Jesus appears now and again to Thomas, and both he and God are portrayed as pretty useless and unable to intervene with anything.  Jesus seems like a nice enough character in this book, even though I don't believe in God, Jesus, the afterlife, etc.  At one point Thomas realises God can't help him, and believes that God died because He (I'll put He with a capital H) was so sad at what was happening. 

Apparently Guus Kuijer is a very popular author in the Netherlands, but this is his first book to be published in English.  I'm not sure if any more of his work has been translated into English since then, but if so I'll definitely read them. Speaking of which, the translation is excellent.  Though I guess I wouldn't know since I haven't read the original, even though I can read Dutch pretty fluently (even though I can speak barely a word).  This is because I speak English, German and some Norwegian and by putting them together, you get Dutch.  It's like a northern European pidgin.  Anyway, if it weren't for the various indications that it was first published abroad, you wouldn't know.

Summary: quirky and serious, funny and tragic, weird and wonderful, original and yet full of post-war everyday life, though you can read it in one sitting, The Book of Everything deserves to be read by teenagers, pensioners, schoolchildren, parents, basically everyone.  Rating:3.5


  1. I love the idea of a foreign language day - that's fantastic. Stopping by on the hop!

  2. Hi, I found you one the hop. I am doing a beach bag giveaway package on my book blog site too. I hope you hop by and check it out and enter.
    Kelly Bookend Diaries

  3. I found you on the book bloggers hop and now a new follower!

  4. I'm just stopping by from the hop, and now I follow! I love your layout1


  5. A fluent reader of Dutch? I'm in awe. Foreign Language Friday sounds like an excellent (and very smart) blog feature. Found you through the Hop!


  6. I'm stopping by from the Blog Hop & am your newest follower.

    If you have a chance, I'd love for you to stop by my blog, follow back and take a moment to enter any of the current 4 giveaways {low entries}.

    Have a great weekend

  7. Stopping my from the hop :)
    I like your blog so I'll follow :)


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