5 Ways to Start a Canonized Book



‘I am a coffee broker, and I live at No. 37 Lauriergracht, Amsterdam. I am not in the habit of writing novels or things of that sort, and so I have been a long time making up my mind to buy a few extra reams of paper and start on the work which you, dear reader, have just taken up, and which you must read if you are a coffee broker, or if you are anything else.’

From: Max Havelaar, Multatuli

(Translated by Roy Edwards)


‘The full moon, which that evening had a tragic intensity, had risen early, just before twilight faded, like a huge, bloodred globe. It flared sunset-like low beyond the tamarind trees of Long Avenue and climbed, gradually purging itself of its tragic hue, into an indistinct sky.’

From: The Hidden Force, Louis Couperus

(Translated by Paul Vincent)


‘Except for the man who thought Sarphati Street was the most beautiful place in Europe, I’ve never met anyone more peculiar than the freeloader.’

From: The Freeloader, Nescio

(Translated by Damion Searls)


‘During the dark days around Christmas, in a Rotterdam maternity ward, Jacob Willem Katadreuffe was assisted into the world by a Caesarean. His mother was an eighteen-year-old servant-girl, Jacoba Katadreuffe, called Joba for short. His father was a bailiff, A. B. Dreverhaven, a man in his late thirties, renowned for his ruthlessness towards any debtor who fell into his hands.’

From: Character, Ferdinand Bordewijk

(Translated by E.M. Prince)


‘A dreary November evening, with a soaking drizzle that drove even the bravest of us from the streets, and it was too far to trudge through that icy curtain of rain to the bar I always drank at. So it would be the first time in a long, long while, for the years fly quickly, that I would go straight home. My unexpected arrival would be taken for a step along the road to repentance, and I could hear my wife saying that the beginning is always difficult but better late than never.’

From: Will-o’-the-Wisp, Willem Elsschot

(Translated by A. Brotherton)



First published in The Low Countries, 2016