Award-winning Dutch author Jaap Scholten writes a book on his and his family's adventures in Hungary, holding a mirror in front of this nation.
Dutch writer Jaap Scholten has been living in Budapest since 2003. He is the author of the novels “Eighty” (Tachtig), “Morning Star” (Morgenster) and Spengler’s Law (De wet van Spengler), a novel about family, fraternal love and growing up, describing a milieu very much alike the one in which he was raised. This latter work was chosen ‘Best Book of the Year 2009’ in the Netherlands.
Scholten says he loves Hungary for many things including being so spacious. “Budapest features nearly everything that gives a city real magnificence: mountains and a wide river. Only a sea is missing,” he says. He also notes that unfortunately, not all Hungarians realize how blessed they are with the conditions of their homeland. “There’s always some nostalgia and depression in the air. I don’t know any other nations having more heroes who committed suicide. Even the Hungarian language sounds a little depressed for me. It’s interesting that in Transylvania, they speak the same language with a little different and ‘happier’ tone.”
He is not likely to hide his opinion. On the contrary, he wrote a book on his and his half Dutch, half Hungarian wife’s adventures and thoughts about this country and its residents. Entitled ‘Is it good for me to be here?', the book, pulished both in Hungarian and in Dutch, includes columns he originally sent to NRC Handelsblad, a Dutch newspaper, and, according to the writer, it inspired an immense number of Dutchmen to move to Hungary. “No joke, in Baranya, close to Pecs, there are villages that are almost entirely inhabited by Dutch people,” he laughs. “I ‘ve received e-mails from people who considered emigrating to Hungary under the influence of my coloumns.”
The collection of funny, sarcastic, but utterly optimistic letters hold a mirror in front of Hungarians, and also in front of himself. “I must say I was quite naive when I came here, but I find this country surprisingly well suited for me,” he says. “Wealth and prosperity radiates from the Netherlands, but I find it too predictable, which has a devastating effect on me.”
Scholten says he never actually planned to build a career as a writer. He studied industrial and graphic design in Delft and Rotterdam. He had many different jobs, working as a tankercleaner, bartender, art director and in advertising. He also wrote film scripts and even now has a little company dealing with spa devices. His frequent travels led to a love of “this part of the world” when visiting his uncle who served as Dutch ambassador to Romania during the reign and downfall of Nicolae Ceausescu. “We used to drive down to Bucharest through Hungary, visiting this uncle of mine, who was a real sweet man with a huge heart, and always in close contact with Romanian dissidents.”
Scholten iniciated a small Dutch Film Club at the American International School of Budapest, and also the Budapest Culture Club, which serves as a traveling salon. “We gather, say, three-monthly, inviting different guests and lecturers,” he explains. “I guess these bourgeois initiatives like intellectual small talks and clubs are very much needed in Hungary, because they build connections other then just political. “I have tried it once, organizing a dinner party together with the former Dutch ambassador, where we have invited politicians and intellectuals from both big parties. It was interesting to watch them lingering in the two opposite sides of the room. It took some time till they could chill out together,” he remembers.
“There’s a lot of talent in this country, but it seems generations will pass until Hungarians will have a less divided and politically corrupt society and learn how to live more elegantly and playfully again.” Scholten is now finishing his new, non-fiction book entitled ‘Comrade Baron,’ to be published in April in the Netherlands about the Hungarian aristocracy in Transylvania and the night of March 3, 1949. Followed by a long research period at the CEU, he interviewed 30 people of 3 generations: The grandparents, their children, and the children of their children, who have memories of that night when up to 2,000 landowning Hungarian families were deported including the entire Transylvanian noble class. These ‘ultimate class-enemies’ were literally dragged out of their home between 1 and 3 am. “It is very interesting to see, how the grandchildren know these stories by heart. I realized that the more you try to destroy people the stronger they become. At least those, who have survived.”