Welcome to Travel Readings
Melbourne: The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas
Books, Movies and Beyond…
Books, Movies and Beyond…: Washington, DC and New York
Books, Movies and Beyond…: Rome
Rio de Janeiro: Crimes of August (Agosto) by Rubem Fonseca
Istanbul: The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk
Liège (Belgium): Pedigree by Georges Simenon
Books, Movies and Beyond…: Lisbon
Books, Movies and Beyond…: Cambodia
Hyde Park, Chicago: Ravelstein by Saul Bellow
Paris: Flowers of Ruin and Suspended Sentences by Patrick Modiano
Books, Movies and Beyond…: Naples
Books, Movies and Beyond…: Tanzania
Sri Lanka: Running in the Family by Michael Ondaatje
Books, Movies and Beyond… : Venice
Dublin: The Dead by James Joyce
Books, Movies and Beyond: Iran
Santa Cruz, Bolivia: The Matter of Desire (Materia del Deseo) by Edmundo Paz Soldán
Books, Movies and Beyond: Syria
Djibouti: Passage of Tears (Passage des Larmes) by Abdourahman Waberi
Books, Movies and Beyond: Armenia
Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso: The Parachute Drop by Norbert Zongo
Bangkok: Sightseeing by Rattawut Lapcharoensap
Périgord, France: The Caves of Périgord by Martin Walker
Books, Movies and Beyond: Brussels
Naples: The Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante
Books, Movies and Beyond: Rio de Janeiro
Tajikistan: Hurramabad by Andrei Volos
New-York: City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg
Israel and Palestine: To the End of the Land by David Grossman and Wild Thorns by Sahar Khalifeh
Books, Movies and Beyond: Bavaria and Southern Germany
Cape Town: Boyhood, Youth and Summertime by J.M. Coetzee
Books, Movies and Beyond: India
Blue Ridge Mountains: Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier
Books, Movies and Beyond: Algeria
Austrian Alps: A Whole Life (Ein ganzes Leben) by Robert Seethaler
Books, Movies and Beyond: Africans in America
Zimbabwe: The Last Resort by Douglas Rogers
Books, Movies and Beyond: Colombia
Belgian Ardennes: The All Saints’ Day Lovers by Juan Gabriel Vásquez
Côte d’Ivoire: Aya of Yop City by Marguerite Abouet and Clément Oubrerie
Japan: Haruki Murakami and Amélie Nothomb
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt and The Rope and The Denial of Saint Peter by Charles Baudelaire
Books, Movies and Beyond: Cairo
Vancouver: What is Remembered by Alice Munro
Ghent (Belgium): War and Turpentine by Stefan Hertmans
Haiti: An Aroma of Coffee and Dining with the Dictator by Dany Laferrière and The Comedians by Graham Greene
Iceland: Jar City by Arnaldur Indriðason
Siena and Tuscany : Il Palio delle contrade morte by Fruttero & Lucentini and The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje
China : Wild Swans. Three Daughters of China, by Jung Chang
Amsterdam: The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

Amsterdam: The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

The Dutch are known for their frankness and their taste for transparency which would trace their origin in Calvinism. Calvinism arrived in the Netherlands in 16th century and established itself as the dominant religion during the 17th century, the Dutch Golden Age. It is said that traditionally, Dutch houses had no curtains because good citizens had nothing to hide from their neighbors.  Evolving over the course of generations from transparency to tolerance, is this the source of the red-light windows attracting scores of tourists going out at night in Amsterdam?

However, a careful walk along the canals could reveal many secrets. A few yards from the Oude Kerk, the oldest church in the city which went from Catholic to Calvinist during the Reformation and which is now located in the middle of the prostitution district, it is possible to visit « Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder (Our Lord in the Attic) », a Catholic church hidden on the third floor of a merchant house. From the canal, nothing betrays this clandestine church where mass was said when, in the Netherlands, the Catholic religion was forbidden – and later tolerated only on the condition of avoiding any public display. Similarly, in the charming béguinage (Begijnhof), the beguines had been allowed to stay but had to follow the Catholic services in a chapel hidden in a house. And of course, Amsterdam is also where Anne Frank wrote her journal in the « annex », the secret extension of a company house, which was concealed behind a retractable book case, before being arrested with her family and deported to the Nazi extermination camps.

Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder (Our Lord in the Attic)

Begijnhof

This tension between transparency and secrets, between Rembrandt’s flamboyant “Night Watch” and Vermeer’s intimate compositions, between the puritan frugality of the portraits of merchants dressed in black with simple white lace collars and the exuberant ostentation of some still lives, can also be found in the Rijksmuseum. This a wonderful museum celebrating the Dutch Golden Age, the period when the proud Republic was establishing commercial outposts in every corner of the globe and competed in wealth and power with England. It is in one of this museum’s rooms that we can admire Petronella Oortman’s dolls’ house. This exceptional replica of the house in which Petronella Oortman lived with her husband Johannes Brandt, a rich merchant, served as starting point and inspiration for the « The Miniaturist » the captivating novel by Jessie Burton, a young British novelist.

Burton imagines the life of Petronella – Nella- a young penniless aristocrat who came from the countryside to get married with the wealthy Johannes, and live in a patrician house on the Herengracht in Amsterdam. Johannes travels and trades around the world, but ignores his spousal duties. Is he looking for forgiveness when he offers his wife a doll’s house, a perfect copy of their own dwelling? The young spouse is upset at first: is she considered as a young girl that one hopes to console with a toy, albeit a sumptuous one? Gradually she needs to find her place in that house, which in Johannes’ absence, is led with austerity by his sister Marin, supported by two servants: Cornelia, an orphan, and Otto, a former slave from Dahomey.

Petronella Oortman Dolls’ Hose (detail), Rijksmuseum

Nella requests the services of a miniaturist to complete the decoration and the characters in her house. The pieces which are delivered are perfect and their realism is astonishing. But soon these objects arrive without having been ordered and seem to anticipate the events and dramas that will affect the house. Who is making these miniatures? Is this the blond woman who seem to follow Nella with her piercing blue eyes when she ventures along the canals? What does she want? Warn? Punish? As secrets are let in the open, as ruin and scandals threatens, Nella is left on her own to take the reins of her house and face the opprobrium of the self-righteous.

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