The Atlantic

Why It Took So Long to Translate a Dutch Classic

When it was published in 1947, Gerard Reve’s The Evenings was considered shocking for its portrayal of youth in a postwar Netherlands. Now beloved in its home country, the novel is arriving stateside for the first time.
Source: Pushkin Press

The Dutch novelist Gerard Reve led a scandal-filled career. In 1966, he converted to Catholicism while being one of the Netherlands’ first openly gay writers. That same year, he was prosecuted for blasphemy: The trial concerned a passage from his book Nearer to Thee wherein God manifests himself as a donkey, only for the narrator to have sex with it—three times. But Reve’s first big controversy came much earlier in 1947, when he published what is widely considered the greatest Dutch novel of the 20th century, De avonden, or The Evenings. After being labeled as “untranslatable” for years, the novel is now being published stateside for the first time, in English, roughly 70 years after its initial release.

Set at the end of 1946, The Evenings concerns Frits, a 23-year-old office worker living with his parents in Amsterdam, and how he spends the 10 evenings leading up to New Year’s Day. In terms of plot, that’s it, yet the book was considered shocking upon its release. Following World War II, there was a widespread belief that “the youth had the future,” Reve’s late-career editor Victor Schiferli told me. “These were the years of rebuilding the nation, and it was not considered a good thing to be negative about this.” But Reve was. He quietly attacked Dutch society by cataloguing it intimately and indiscriminately, and by portraying the outer tedium and inner frustrations of the Netherlands’s

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