Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A View of the Ocean

A View of the Ocean 
by Jan de Hartog
$12.21 at Amazon.com
ISBN: 978-0375424700
Before I begin reviewing A View of the Ocean, let me say that it is not like most of the books you'll see here at Hansisgreat. 
Usually I try to find books which are pleasant and diverting. This one is very heavy and very sad. If you're looking for something to read on an airplane, look elsewhere!
It's an autobiography which focuses on the author's periods of grieving and loss. The dust jacket describes it as an "inspirational memoir".
Here's a run-down on the author: Jan grew up in the Netherlands. During World War II he was a secret courier for the British Navy, and helped Jewish babies escape from Nazi occupied Holland. His 1940 
novel, Holland's Glorie, is considered a national treasure by the Dutch, because it symbolized their resistance to German occupation.
I did not know any of this when I began A View of the Ocean. It interested me because the story concerns the death of his mother, and his conversion to the Quaker religion. Coincidentally, my own mother died a year and a half ago, and I also became a Quaker around the same time. 
Weird.
I never rescued any babies, though.
Anyway, this is a sensitive and beautiful memoir about the deaths of 
the author's parents. No, they weren't killed because of the war, they both died the "normal" way: of sickness and old age. There's very little action: just a few short scenes from his childhood along with the story of how his parents met. Jan's father means well but is a bit heavy-handed. He's a clergyman with what our era would call an idiosyncratic, almost Victorian personality. For example, during Jan's boyhood, his father would bring the following items along each time the family went on vacation:

- a hip bath
-a tea service
-his own silverware
-three footlockers full of books
-a plaster bust of the philosopher Schopenhauer

Jan's deepest affection, naturally, is for his mother, whose death brings an unexpected 
spiritual twist to the end of the story. When Jan donates some of his late mother's books, he comes in contact with a group of Dutch Quakers, who provide him with hope during his time of loss.
There's truly not much of a story here. This book struck a chord with me for deeply personal reasons. It's not something you'll want to read for leisure, but if you've lost a close loved one it may offer you some comfort. It promises a rational possibility of an afterlife, which by itself makes it worth checking out. 
Additionally, those not too familiar with the Quaker religion may learn a few things about it that are interesting. The only other 
reason one might want to read it would be if they were Dutch. Mostly, it's for people who are grieving.
Unless they die young, most people experience the deaths of their parents. I found it was one of the least enjoyable parts of life, but there's no avoiding it. I'm sorry if all this is a bit depressing for a website featuring shirtless men.
I only mention it because, if this book is what you're looking for, then it's important for you to know that it's out there.

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