Posted by: Corri van de Stege | December 2, 2007

Geert Mak in Europe

This is the time of the year when newspaper supplements and the Times Literary Supplement and others publish lists of authors’ favourite book (stroking each other?) of the year.  These supplements tends to confine themselves to the English market, the TLS includes a slightly wider range in that it also lists books that may have appeared in translation, or not. 

AS Byatt gives Geert Mak ‘In Europe’ as the first on her list, which I find very pleasing.  He has become a hugely respected writer in the Netherlands and it appears, also further afield.  He is now being translated and acknowledged as a historian who writes with passion and in excellent prose about European cities.  He has also written the memorable ‘In de eeuw van mijn vader’ (my father’s century) which is not available in English translation.  Shame.  It is an excellent history of the Dutch, and evokes the hugely influential Calvinist era, that left indelible marks on so many who tried and managed to escape from it, Jan Wolkers, a well known author, is one of them.  

A friend of mine sent me a recent supplement to the Dutch Newspaper ‘De Volkskrant’ which has an interview with Geert Mak and that made me realise how much that culture still defines me. 



  1. My allowance for these holidays, Seachanges, may provide for my long list of books as recommended by you.

    Which I look forward to.

  2. Jose: oopss glad to hear you have a book allowance. Enjoy!

    Geert Mak has made many mistakes in his book “In Europe”. In his story about Istanbul he depicts Ataturk as a “dictator” in one sentence. Ataturk has modernised parlament, installed voting rights for women, just to name a few to spice up his book. Also sharing the coupe in 1980 in turkey as anti-islamic is a huge blunder. Any cheap travel guide (or Wikipedia) can tell you it was a coupe to stop left-wing and right-wing clashes. Geert Mak his book is not worth reading. Geert Mak has certainly not the qualities to write about somithing as important as the history of Europe. My copy is ready for paper-recycling!!

  4. Jan: perhaps it is worthwhile just rereading the chapter on Istanbul? Geert Mak writes about the city Istanbul and where he stays: the Pera Palas, where the loveliest suite ‘is held eternaly for Mustafa Kemal Pasa’ (Kemal Ataturk) and he goes on to relate how Ataturk was able to impose secularisation and indeed how he is seen as a symbol of ‘a great leap forward’. He sums up all the progressive measures attributed to Ataturk as well as alerting us to the fact that there is another side to the historical figure and whatever is ascribed to him, viz that he is also seen as a despot. With respect to the 1980 coup the book merely states that ‘thousands of opponents were detained without due process’ (which is true, I would say)and that lateron in 1998 generals ‘who acted in the name of Ataturk’ shoved aside the first democratically elected Islamic government.

    And by the way, this is a book about travels through Europe (visiting places and countries) and does not go anywhere near claiming to be ‘the history of Europe’.

    Perhaps keep the book and reread it, rather than shred it?

  5. […] more on Geert Mak in Europe The following comment is placed under my blog on Geert Mak in Europe (Dec 2nd) by Jan.  (s)he says:‘THE BOOK IS NOT WORHT READING!! Geert Mak has made many mistakes in his book […]

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