Trusting the subconscious machine

When the Dutch Booksellers’ Union, which is celebrating its centenary, asked best-selling author and sometime journalist Nelleke Noordervliet to write about bookshops in another country, she was delighted to oblige. In Athens this week to research her assignment, she took the opportunity to present the Greek editions of two of her novels (translated by Ino van Dijk-Balta and published by Kastaniotis). Kathimerini English Edition asked Noordervliet about her work and ideas. History is a common element in her novels (Dutch colonialism in «Pelican Bay,» the legacy of WWII in «The Name of the Father») and a real-life interest for the author. «My intention is to mirror the present,» she said, «and the present mirrors the past.» Citing the example of the Nazi regime, she also points out that history can be distorted to suit any purpose. «We can learn everything and nothing from history; it doesn’t give us one straight lesson. Sometimes I say history is war and we are the pimps.» Art – the author is on the non-executive board of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam – is another recurring theme. Asked if she intended in her novel «The Name of the Father» (1993) to parallel the process of painting or taking a photograph with writing, Noordervliet smiled. «Sometimes I put things in subconsciously. I trust the subconscious machine to make the work flow more smoothly and naturally.» Backs to the future Europe is an issue on which Noordervliet waxes eloquent. «What EU countries have in common is war,» she said at a dinner in her honor on Tuesday. Haven’t we got past that? «We are still organized in a defensive way. We should take a step toward the future. We have our backs to the future and are facing the past. We have to find out what we want the European Union to be. Between Asia and the US, do we have our own purpose? How do we express it?» She would like to see the EU help make migration a choice and not a necessity, by finding a new role in Africa and the Middle East: «The old way of government organizations and NGOs helping poor people is a dead end.» Recently Dutch society has experienced some violent repercussions when unresolved ethnic tensions have been fueled by a rise in fundamentalism. «There is a problem of integration,» says Noordervliet, who knew anti-immigration politician Pim Fortyn and film director Theo van Gogh, who both died at the hands of extremists. She explains the plight of second-generation immigrants, who have one leg in open Dutch society and the other in their society of origin. «They want to be part of Dutch society but see the fate of their parents who are still poor and are not treated as full citizens. They themselves are integrated, have knowledge and a good education, but they feel loyal to their parents and want to defend them.» Sometimes they can go overboard in reaction and become fundamentalists who «act against Dutch society. It’s difficult for them and it’s difficult for us.» More openness The answer? More openness. «We must not be afraid to voice our opinions. We have to be open and talk about religion. What we want in Dutch society is freedom of speech, not pussyfooting around. We must keep the lines of communication open.» In Rotterdam, she explained, discussions between immigrants and local government, about religious, integration issues «cleared the air. People felt they could say what they wanted.» Tonight Noordervliet will discuss historical fiction and the use of historical sources with Greek writer Ismini Kapantai at the Netherlands Institute in Athens, 11 Makri Street, 7.30 p.m. Tel. 210.921.0770.

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