Geert Mak is one of the most popular and most widely read non-fiction authors in the Netherlands. The editors of the website Polonia.NL invited him for a meeting with Polish community and our Dutch friends at the Embassy of Poland in The Hague.

The reason for that was a publication of the Polish edition of “In Europe” (W Europie) and a forthcoming visit of Geert Mak to Warsaw and Krakow (11-13th Feb). The meeting took place on the 6th of February 2009, by coincidence at the 20th anniversary of the Round Table talks in Poland.

The website Polonia.NL promotes the Polish edition of „In Europe” in the Netherlands – read our coverge on W Europie (in Polish)

Quotes of Geert Mak:

  • „I spent the whole 1999 – the last year of the 20th century – criss-crossing around Europe in a camper for my newspaper NRC Handelsblad. I did the same as John Steinbeck in the 60’s. It was my final inspection of the 20th century. (With his dog Charley, John Steinbeck set out in his truck to explore and experience America in the 1960s, read: “Travels with Charley in Search of America” by John Steinbeck – eds.).
  • „In 1999 Eastern Europe under transition had a lot of problems, situation deteriorated, people felt humiliated, there were a lot of political disputes. At that time there was a lot of easy thinking in the West. The West underestimated the problems of the East, many thought that within 5-7 years the East could reach the level of Western Europe.
  • In 2004 when “In Europe” was published in the Netherlands, a miracle happened. Suddenly 100 000 copies were sold and the book became a highly discussed topic of conversation during the summer holidays.
  • „Europe needs new faces. Sarkozy did a good job under the French presidency of the EU. Europe must have one voice to be heard abroad.
  • „Europe is now at the crossroad, it can go right way to united Europe and a wrong way. For the first to happen it is necessary to ratify the Lisbon Treaty. We have to work together, build Europe in a very practical way.
  • „We need more practical experience, what I call “Europe of realities” – a common language, a European newspaper – a common European space. We need interaction with each other. >>>
  • watch the video

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More about Geert Mak
He is a Dutch journalist and journalistic historian, born in 1946 in Vlaardingen. He grew up in Friesland as the sixth and youngest child of a parson’s family. After studies of law and sociology at the Free University in Amsterdam Mak worked as a journalist for a left-wing weekly „Groene Amsterdammer”, for a radiobroadcaster VPRO and later for a quality newspaper „NRC Handelsblad”.

His talent as a writer appeared for the first time in 1992 with a publication of “De engel van Amsterdam” (“The Angel of Amsterdam”). He is the author of “Een kleine Geschiedenis van Amsterdam” (“A Bief History of Amsterdam”) , a brilliant portrait of that city, and of a village of Jorwerd. In “Hoe God verdween uit Jorwerd” (“How God Disappeared From Jorwerd”) Mak described in 1996 the decline of a Friesian village as an example of the far-reaching changes experienced in rural areas in Europe between 1945 and 1995. It is perhaps the best single book on the slow death of the European countryside.

His breakthrough as a writer was “De eeuw van mijn vader” (“The Century of My Father”) published in 1999. In this book his own family is used as the basis for his description of the emergence of modern Dutch society. “The Century of My Father” alone has sold 500,000 copies in the Netherlands and was chosen as Book of the Year in 2000.

But Geert Mak also intervenes in topical debates. In 2004, he triggered a discussion in the Netherlands with his essay “Gedoemd tot kwetsbaarheid” (“Damned to Vulnerability”) written in reaction to the brutal murder of film-maker Theo van Gogh.

In 2004 his magnum opus appeared: “In Europa” (In Europe), a book about Europe in the 20th century. By now it has become a standard work in the Netherlands. “In Europe” was Book of the Year in 2004.

In the autumn of 2007, it was also filmed as a 35-part series In Europe to be shown on Dutch television over the course of two years. In 2007 he wrote “De Brug” (“The Bridge of Istanbul”). And his last book is “Niederlande” („The Netherlands”) published in Germany in series: „Die Deutschen und ihre Nachbarn”.

Mak received Leipzig Book Award for European Understanding 2008.

„In Europe” our review
It is a fascinating book. A breathtaking portrait of Europe in the 20th century. What makes this book absorbing, is a focus on three issues: places, details and people, while the author is continuously switching between the past and the presence. So the past becomes the presence. This is what some call the method of Mak.

1. Places
Mak vistied some 60 cities in a year time – the hotspots of the 20th century in Europe. He settled down to write about World War I from a farm in Ypres. He tells us about Hitler’s invasion on Soviet Union from a square in Volgograd. He recounts the splintering of Yugoslavia from a restaurant in Novi Sad. The book ends up in 1999 in Sarajevo where the World War I began in 1914. What a coincidence!

2. Details
Mak has a great eye for telling detail. Het tells us about the young Vladimir Putin trying to burn so many files in the KGB office in Dresden in 1989 that the stove exploded!
But Mak has an extraordinary skill: he gives coherence to a mass of detail, but the result is not wearing, whatsoever!

3. Moods and people
Finally, the book is a subtle study, dealing in moods, not discourse. The author is more interested in images and events than ideas. He loves to talk to common people, because they are on their part also eyewitnesses of the 20th century. They have their story, which is their memory of the 20th century. Mak writes about that and it becomes ours as well.

Author: Malgorzata Bos-Karczewska – editor-in-chief of Polonia.NL
Video: Iza Van Geelen-Cwikla

>> Reactions:

Middels deze mail wil ik nogmaals hartelijk danken voor de bijeenkomst afgelopen vrijdag in de Poolse ambassade. Het was niet alleen leerzaam, maar zeker verruimend qua denkwijze.
Met vriendelijke groet, Hugo Brenders

>> Links:
Geert Mak na spotkaniu w ambasadzie RP w Hadze/ Ontmoeting met Geert Mak op de Poolse Ambassade – Nasza Polonia, 08.02.2009

Published on Polonia.NL 08.02.2009