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BOOKS | REVIEWS: On the Bright Side

BOOKS | REVIEWS: On the Bright Side

March 23rd, 2019 by Star Tribune (Minneapolis) in Features
"On the Bright Side" by Hendrik Groen, translated from the Dutch by Hester Velmans (Grand Central)

On the Bright Side by Hendrik Groen, translated from the Dutch by Hester Velmans; Grand Central (432 pages, $27)


I fell in love with the 83-year-old Hendrik Groen two years ago when his internationally best-selling "secret diary" about life in an Amsterdam old folks' home was published in the United States. Hendrik is a fictional character and the "diaries" are novels in diary form. It's not clear who wrote them—the author has kept his (or her) name private, perhaps to give Hendrik more credibility. And Hendrik is plenty credible; his voice never falters. He is funny, thoughtful and curmudgeonly. He also has strong regrets, enjoys a few drinks and some practical jokes, and seriously dislikes growing old.

In the first book, he and his buddy Evert formed "The Old But Not Dead" club, in which select residents of the home planned monthly outings at restaurants and museums.

"On the Bright Side" opens two years later. It is a darker book. Hendrik is older and sadder, his health a little more frail. Evert is ill (though hiding it). The winter in Holland is a "horror winter," with record cold. The staff at the care home has changed, and the home itself is threatened with closure. Death is on Hendrik's mind.

Still, the Old But Not Dead club continues its escapades, someone is stashing fruit in illicit places all around the home just to be annoying, and the book's darkness is leavened with moments of hilarity.

Fortified with alcohol, friendship, his diary and, eventually, a dose of antidepressants, Hendrik makes it to his 86th year, old but not yet dead. His diary is thoughtful, entertaining and wise. Long may he live.

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