Synopses & Reviews
J. H. F. 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 reinhabits
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.
"It's little wonder that J.H.F. GrÃ¶nlÃ¶h (1882 1961) wrote these biting and perceptive stories under the pseudonym Nescio (Latin for 'I don't know'). In most of them a sensitive artist mocks businessmen who slave away in offices and fail to contemplate the beautiful natural world. GrÃ¶nlÃ¶h himself was an executive of a trading company in Amsterdam, apparently the very embodiment of the middle-class rectitude his characters despise. In this first English translation of his work, impoverished artists and writers seek to escape stifling bourgeois culture. Looking back with nostalgia at the idealism of their youth, these young men are generally regarded by Nescio with a bemused sympathy that can acquire a mocking edge. He trades wit for sensuousness, however, when his characters contemplate the inspiring Dutch landscape. In the best offering, 'Little Poet,' the God of the Netherlands is a befuddled old man in a 'shabby coat dandruff on his collar.' He is the custodian of business, propriety, and smug respectability, and he and the devil both observe a man realize his desire to 'be a great poet, and to fall' from grace. Five of the collected stories, many published in Holland in 1918, are considered Nescio's major work; the remaining four are inchoate fragments. While his distinctive voice is absorbing, readers who are not familiar with Amsterdam may find the mention of streets, rivers, neighborhoods, canals, and dikes confusing. Yet this is a valuable introduction to a significant Dutch writer." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
No one has written more feelingly and more beautifully than Nescio about the madness and sadness, courage and vulnerability of youth: its big plans and vague longings, not to mention the binges, crashes, and marathon walks and talks. No one, for that matter, has written with such pristine clarity about the radiating canals of Amsterdam and the cloud-swept landscape of the Netherlands.
Who was Nescio? Nescio—Latin for “I don’t know”—was the pen name of J.H.F. Grönloh, the highly successful director of the Holland–Bombay Trading Company and a father of four—someone who knew more than enough about respectable maturity. Only in his spare time and under the cover of a pseudonym, as if commemorating a lost self, did he let himself go, producing over the course of his lifetime a handful of utterly original stories that contain some of the most luminous pages in modern literature.
This is the first English translation of Nescio’s stories.
About the Author
Jan Hendrik Frederik Grönloh (1882–1961) was born in Amsterdam, the oldest of four children. After an idealistic youth, he joined the Holland–Bombay Trading Company in 1904, becoming director in 1926, suffering a nervous breakdown leading to a short hospitalization in 1927, and retiring at age fifty-five, on December 31, 1937; he married Aagje Tiket (b. 1883) in 1906 and had four daughters with her, born in 1907, 1908, 1909, and 1912. Meanwhile, as Nescio (Latin for “I don’t know”; he adopted a pseudonym so as not to jeopardize his business career, acknowledging his authorship publicly only in 1929), he wrote what is now considered perhaps the best prose in the Dutch language.
Damion Searls is a writer and a translator of many classic twentieth-century authors, including Proust, Rilke, Robert Walser, Ingeborg Bachmann, and Thomas Bernhard. His translation of Hans Keilson’s Comedy in a Minor Key was a New York Times Notable Book of 2010 and a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist. He also edited Henry David Thoreau’s The Journal: 1837–1861, available as an NYRB Classic.
Joseph O’NeilL is the author of three novels, most recently Netherland (2008), and of Blood-Dark Track: A Family History (2001). Born in Ireland, he spent most of his childhood in the