When I was growing up in the 1980’s in Holland I used to watch the literary talk show Hier is… Adriaan van Dis. That’s probably what made Adriaan van Dis quite famous, but he is much more than just a TV host, because he is actually one of Holland’s most famous writers (both novels and poetry). Over the years I read most of his books, with themes that are mainly related to his personal life, such as his families Indonesian roots, his homosexuality and his travels all over the world. Most of his novels are easy to read and quite witty – even though many of his themes are relatively heavy. He plays with words and combines them in innovative ways, sometimes even inventing whole new words.
So when I heard a few weeks ago that Adriaan van Dis would give a talk in Shanghai this week, I immediately signed up for it. I looked forward to hearing him speak about his life as a writer and he didn’t disappoint me. Because many Dutch people live in Hongqiao, the event took place there. Good for me, it was literally a stone’s throw from my house in a nice coffee bar / restaurant just off Hongmei Lu. About 80 people turned up for the event, a lot more than I had expected. I saw a lot of Dutch acquaintances that I had not met for a while (some I had not seen for years actually), and because the event only started at 8:45 PM instead of the planned 8 PM, I had a lot of time to catch up with old friends and get to know new people.
One of Adriaan van Dis’ first books described a trip to China in 1986. It was titled ‘Een barbaar in China’, literally meaning ‘A barbarian in China’. I reread the book on the plane from Holland to China last week, it’s a short novel that you can read in 2-3 hours. During his 1986 trip he traveled along the Silk Route and spent about 6 weeks in China. Living in contemporary China you don’t recognize the China that he describes. And the opposite happened to him: he was in China for the first time in over 20 years, and he of also did not recognize the country anymore. He seemed to be impressed by Shanghai, making a rhyme on the way from the airport to the city along the lines of Shanghai high high high and Shanghai buy buy buy, upon seeing only skycrapers and shopping malls.
‘Een barbaar in China’ was of course a topic during the evening, but he mainly talked about his latest book De Wandelaar (The Walker), in which he describes the daily walks of a Dutch person living in Paris with his dog. Adriaan van Dis has been living in Paris for many years and makes daily long walks on his doctor’s request, so the book is based on his own experiences, showing the darker side of Paris that most tourist never get to see. Quite interesting to hear, especially because I had just started reading his book. He also talked about his upcoming book about South-Africa, that he is currently writing. Adriaan van Dis studied South-African language and literature (Afrikaans) and he revealed that he had even been trained in Paris in the early 1970’s to infiltrate in South-Africa to support the ANC (he never used his training though). Based on what he told the audience the book should be an interesting read as well.
The evening ended around 11 PM. I enjoyed hearing Adriaan van Dis speak, he is very eloquent and has a very big knowledge about all kinds of topics (especially literature and politics). I assume that next to writing and walking around Paris, he spends a lot of time reading magazines and newspapers. During the evening I decided to read all of his books that I did not have the chance to read yet, including some of his poetry. He read some of his poems and they were quite impressive – even more so because he explained the background and because he read them himself. It was an evening to remember, thanks to the Dutch Association in Shanghai for organizing this!