BookPage Top Pick in Fiction, July 2017
When we meet Hendrik in this anonymously authored Dutch bestseller, he lives in an Amsterdam retirement community where the days are long, hope is scarce and even life’s simple pleasures, like a good meal and a decent piece of cake, are in short supply. He’s friendly with a few fellow residents, but he’s generally lonely and baffled by the typical “old person” behaviors of others in the home. He’s irritated by their shallow small talk, poor hygiene and lack of self-awareness.
Hendrik decides to start a journal to give himself daily purpose and a place to vent. He writes about the funny things he sees every day, like old men on motorized scooters who cause pileups with motorcyclists, a woman who accidentally sits down on a plate full of pastries, and a man who reads the same newspaper every day and reports the stories as if they’re fresh.
The administrator of the home seems bent on enforcing silly rules and keeping any semblance of personality out of the residents’ lives, and Hendrik writes about the mysteries and intrigue that spring up in this closed society: the fish tank that keeps being poisoned, the woman suspected of pushing her husband’s wheelchair down the stairs and Hendrik’s own contraband Christmas tree.
The reflection that comes with journaling soon offers glimmers of hope for Hendrik, and he connects with kindred spirits. Together, they form the Old But Not Dead Club and go on adventures designed to help them experience new things. The club is life-affirming for all members, and the project is a huge success.
But even as we rejoice with Hendrik, he doesn’t let us forget that he and his friends are constantly threatened with and sidelined by ailments both small and serious. The way they band together and support each other is an incredible picture of friendship, and it’s something we could all stand to emulate, no matter where we are in our lives.