Nescio means "I don't know" in Latin and was the pen name for Dutch author J.H.F. Grönloh (1882-1961), whose writings were recently translated into English for the first time under the title Amsterdam Stories.
A contemporary of Jame Joyce, Grönloh was not a writer by profession, rather he earned a comfortable living as the hard driving director of Holland-Bombay Trading Company. In fact, it wasn't until after a nervous breakdown in 1929, that he took public ownership of his few published works.
The conflict between our youthful artistic desires and the need for respectability as we become adults is a recurring theme throughout his stories. The first entitled, "The Freeloader," stars Japi whose personal motto is I am nothing and I do nothing. He slacks and mooches off his friends who find him both irritating and inspiring. He disappears to Friesland and comes back with not a story but a mystery. He is, alas, not immune to life's demands. I don't want to give too much away and spoil the ending.
His group of friends are collectively referred to as "The Little Titans" in the second story and can be found throughout the collection. They are a group of bohemians, who as youths do, wail against the bourgeoisie and bemoan the lack of a revolution, while searching for answers to existential questions, as they walk the Dutch countryside and streets of Amsterdam.
One of the group has enough talent to earn a living as an artist, while the narrator is a struggling writer and the others end up surrendering to society and getting jobs. The artist, Bavink, stars in the shortest story called "Out Along the IJ." He and a friend rent an old cabin along a river, losing themselves in art and nature, oblivious to the nude ex-girlfriend washing dishes to the amazement of the local children, until their money and credit run out. The final story, "Isola Dei" looks at loss during the Nazi occupation, finding salvation in memories and the sunrise while riding a bike to Eindhoven.
Lost Paradise: A Novel is a book by contemporary Dutch author Cees Nooteboom. The premise is simple enough. The narrator picks two random strangers (One is a sensual woman on a plane to Berlin. The other, a weary man on a train platform) and interweaves their story. In many writers' hands this could be a sprawling epic, but this Dutch great manages to write a compact, lyrical book about angels, totems and life, that takes us from Brazil to Australia to Germany and of course, Holland. Cees Nooteboom is a master at conveying so much with a simple sentence and I would be remiss if I didn't comment on the seamless translation done by Susan Massotty. I'm really surprised Cees Nooteboom hasn't garnered more international press, because this book, at least, ranks up there with some of today's bests, defying comparison. I look forward to reading more of his work.