30 nights in Amsterdam, by Etienne van Heerden
Etienne van Heerden, author of 30 nights in Amsterdam, combines popular readability with literary excellence and profound issues in a manner accomplished by few writers of any nationality.
[...] Henk walks across the wooden floor of the old museum homestead - formerly a parsonage - to fetch a glass of water. The echo of his footsteps sounds hollow and forlorn here, and so the arrival of post, even if probably just tedious instructions from Museum Service headquarters, is a welcome diversion. Three items, Henk notes while the postman, out of breath, drinks, standing on the front stoep. One is from the Department: a large, official envelope, a brochure. The second item is this month's water-and-electricity account. And then, addressed to him personally, a thick envelope bearing a Dutch stamp. The postman wipes his mouth with the back of his hand, returns the glass with a 'Thank you Mister de Melker' and is off on his bicycle. Almost exuberantly he cycles down the street, in a hurry to get home, because the museum is evidently his last stop of the day and it's downhill all the way now. Henk stands watching him. The bicycle chain plinks tinnily against the mudguard, and gravel chips spatter up. At the nearest house, at the top end of the street, a dog starts barking, and it echoes through the quiet, deserted streets of the Karoo town. Henk first lingers in the museum's kitchen, then walks to his desk and sits down with the little pile of post squared in front of him. The grandfather clock in the corner ticks rhythmically. Henk is here on his own today. His boss, museum curator Emile Badenhorst, is eager to share the message of the country's heritage with the world and has gone to address some matric class. The cleaner is ill, and the gardener is absent-mindedly minding his rake — in his own way, then, also absent. Henk scrutinises every aspect of the third envelope. He's not the type to get carried away with things, but sometimes something comes to nestle in your grasp and some instinct tells you that it's of rare significance. Even he, always so cautious and meticulous, a pussyfooter' (his matric class teacher's term), can smell: this is something momentous. The envelope is made of thick paper, that's what makes it so bulky - not necessarily the contents, then. Just Dutch airs and graces, Henk thinks, this ostentation of thick, expensive paper. And just look at the address, so meticulously penned: Zuid-Afrika. Henk gets up again to make coffee. He takes his coffee without milk, but with two large teaspoons of brown sugar. Next to the kettle he stands ruminating. Then he returns to the desk. He tidies everything away: the stapler, the pencil and pen, the notebook, the loose correspondence. Everything squared. He crumples paper and sweeps up dust, empties the waste-paper basket, goes to the toilet, where he lingers long after the stream has stopped. He returns to the desk, now with long strides, sits down and resolutely takes up the envelope. As always when anticipating something, he sniffs loudly twice and his left eyebrow twitches. With the antique letter knife he slits open the envelope. Thick writing paper slides out. He unfolds it. The signature at the end of the letter was shaped by an artistic hand. It's a hand with an ego as bloated as the belly of the large G of the name inscribed there in expensive ink: Grotius. It's not every day that Henk gets letters like this. In fact, it's the first time in his life that he's received correspondence from Amsterdam. He considers himself a simple man, a man who asks for little from life and gives little in return. He is middle-aged, 47 and three months to be precise. [...]
This is an excerpt from the novel 30 nights in Amsterdam, by Etienne van Heerden.
Title: 30 nights in Amsterdam
Author: Etienne van Heerden
Publisher: The Penguin Group (South Africa)
2nd edition. Cape Town, South Africa 2011
ISBN 9780143528739 / ISBN 978-0-14-352873-9
Softcover, 15 x 23 cm, 457 pages
van Heerden, Etienne im Namibiana-Buchangebot
30 Nights in Amsterdam was awarded the University of Johannesburg Prize for Creative Writing in Afrikaans, the W. A. Hofmeyr Prize, the M-Net Literary Award, the University of Johannesburg Prize and the Hertzog Prize.
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