We are not great


Apologies to my non-Dutch readers for ignoring the first language of the western world. But did you know that a part of my latest book can be read online too? On the ‘boeken’ page you’ll find a button ‘translations’. Click away.

Soon one of my short stories will be translated into different languages, English being the first. The story’s called ‘We are not great’. This here is a fragment. You’ll find the complete text on the page with translations.

The translation is by Michael Blass.


People like Ronnie have bigger dreams than we do. And there’s something in us that can’t stand it. I don’t know why. It’s to do with lack of boundaries, I think. For some, it’s a necessity. To us, it was something frightening.
I recently found the notebook in which he’d written a story, that afternoon in the Escher museum, by the picture of the turtle and the woman. ‘Shall I tell you a story?’ he’d asked me. And I’d nodded hesitantly. Then he said, ‘No, wait. I’ll write it down. Give me your notebook.’
I obeyed and gave it to him. He ran his eyes over the cover. I’d written my name on it. WOUTER BLIJDER it said in small capitals. Below, in smaller letters: History – class 4B.
I was ashamed of my small-mindedness. But Ronnie didn’t say anything, he opened the notebook at a blank page and started writing. When he was finished, he gave me the book and the pen back. This is what it said:

‘Castle in the Air,’ 1928
She seduced the turtle into carrying her. The idea of shedding their responsibilities – for her, the care for her sickly old husband; for him, the literal burden of the world – was so romantically revolutionary, the turtle agreed. She climbed on his back, little by little. The more the world moved out of the way, the more room there was for her to stand. When she’d eventually taken all the world’s room, the earth didn’t sink as she’d expected. It floated away. First there was a stunned silence. Then the woman realised what she’d discarded. Then the turtle also understood what his choice had meant. A woman who regretted choosing him. A way from which there was no turning back. She raised her arms. Not to heaven, but to earth, which was gently bobbing in the wind above them. The turtle shook his calloused head and felt eternity dragging at his feet.

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