A tender, sometimes hilarious story
Not far from Central Station in Amsterdam is Bickerseiland, a piece of reclaimed land, a lively harbour in the seventeenth century, but in the turbulent sixties a rundown working-class area, ‘a forgotten, messy part of Amsterdam full of bad housing, rickety sheds and car wrecks.’ Every Sunday the eleven-year-old protagonist goes to collect his ‘Sunday money’ from an aunt and uncle who treat him as their favourite child. It’s one of the deep rooted traditions of his large, typically Amsterdam workingclass family, with its countless uncles, aunts, cousins, grandfather and grandmother.
Snijder paints a beautiful, restrained picture of daily life on the island at the time through the eyes of an intelligent, sensitive boy who feels safe in the bosom of his family, while beginning to realise that he doesn’t quite fit in.
Snijder vividly describes both everyday and special events, such as the parties brightened up by stubborn Uncle Freek, a musician and master of ceremonies. The boy wants to belong and plans to join in the dancing: ‘It should have been a moment of penance, but at the same time a manifesto of great happiness, a joyful christening of my new self, an ecstatic immersion into my family.’ There is only one person in his family who seems to really understand him - his father, who is from rural Groningen, ‘the only wise man on the island.’ He subtly resists his uneducated in-laws by ‘defending everything which is jeered at on the island.’
Clearly and precisely, Snijder evokes a lost world with striking sights, sounds and smells. This slightly melancholy yet wholly unsentimental novel paints a touching picture of an Amsterdam family in the sixties, as well as an affectionate portrait of father and son.