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The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen

Review

The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen

written by Hendrik Groen, translated by Hester Velmans

Hendrik Groen begins his secret diary with one of the best first sentences I’ve ever read: Another year, and I still don’t like old people. That sets the tone for the entire novel, as it’s called, although it feels very much like an actual diary. For just one year, Hendrik decides, he will write down his thoughts in this little book, partly because he often hasn’t the courage to speak his mind. Besides, he hates griping and complaining. Whining is about his biggest peeve.

You see, Hendrik lives in a retirement home in Amsterdam, and he’s grown weary of the conversation around the dinner table, ranging from subjects like a new rule the management has put in place to a bout of diarrhea one of the “inmates” recently had. So in the pages of his diary, he rails against the old people, the government, the system, the arbitrary restrictions, and the looming need for diapers. A touch of the rebel starts to come out in Hendrik, seemingly unbidden, and possibly strengthened by his daily writings.

"THE SECRET DIARY OF HENDRIK GROEN is, plain and simple, a hoot. The old coot’s humor comes out on every page, as does his kind and gentle heart."

Hendrik’s closest friend, Evert, encourages dissension at every opportunity, generally pushing to bend the rules even further. Given the chance, Evert might stop just short of a criminal act. Then petite Eefje moves in and the two men behave a bit like teenagers competing for the head cheerleader’s attention. There’s blushing, compliments, flowers --- all the niceties gentlemen used to employ in hopes of attracting a lady’s favor. It does not go unappreciated. But there’s much more than Eefje to consider.

In order to battle their blossoming boredom --- and in an effort to find more and more reasons to stay alive --- they form a rebels’ club, the Old But Not Dead club. Hendrik and Evert, with Eefje and their other closest buddies, draw up the club rules, define its purpose and then limit membership strictly to eight. Of course, this foments envy among the other residents, especially as they watch the fun that the Old But Not Dead club enjoys on their weekly outings. No wonder, for the outings are quite creative.

In Hendrik’s diary, he memorializes whatever strikes him as noteworthy that day. Over the course of the year, he explains his plight, captures the mood of the retirement center, the myriad personalities, the petty jealousies and the fierce alliances. He names the bullies, the residents falling into dementia, the valiant folks fighting a losing battle to stay healthy. He chronicles the power plays of the management, the sneaking around of the director, her spying on the “inmates” and her obstinate secretiveness --- unless there’s a chance of publicity, when she suddenly insists on transparency. As stated, Hendrik and his cronies despise complaining, but when they do get into it, it’s about a new round of cutbacks to senior services being considered by the Dutch government or outrage over further proposed abstemious measures and indignation at where the money is being spent. What’s the country coming to anyway?

THE SECRET DIARY OF HENDRIK GROEN is, plain and simple, a hoot. The old coot’s humor comes out on every page, as does his kind and gentle heart.  Some entries are sad, some are happy, some are alarming, but all are achingly honest. Most of all, Hendrik Groen is a genuinely unique character, and a character many of us would strive to be at 83 ¼ years old. Bravo!

Reviewed by Kate Ayers on July 28, 2017

The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen
written by Hendrik Groen, translated by Hester Velmans

  • Publication Date: July 11, 2017
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
  • ISBN-10: 1455542172
  • ISBN-13: 9781455542178