A professor at Leiden moves to Otterlo after he retires and gets a different view of the world. From Otterlo, beloved America seems far more from Alphonse Lammers than from Leiden, as he was a professor of American history. Around Veluwe, the retired American expert tries to stick to his familiar life, in museums (such as Kröller-Müller) and auction houses and libraries. But the alienation begins.
We can read it in letters that Lammers wrote between 2006 and 2016 to friends and acquaintances from science and the media, as he was a much-needed translator of developments in the United States. He does the same in these letters, in which he writes about the rise of Barack Obama, whose rhetoric can quickly become boring, and Donald Trump, whom he calls the “antithesis” of political correctness.
Published books on American history and the emergence of the American media can count on his satirical commentary. Lammers writes about the literature he reads and the aversion he feels toward critics. But this book tells another story that lies beneath all these letters: the story of a man who gradually writes from the present and accepts old age.
The astonishment of life in Otterlo lies in the little things, like the perpetual noise of a leaf blower, or road workers whose radios make loud flutes, or when Professor Leiden is approached on the porch as the driver of an improperly parked vehicle. ‘Well, I wasn’t wearing a tie, but there’s just something really cool about my appearance, I guess. No.’ In the course of the letters, the estrangement is overturned.
At first, we see a historian from Leiden looking at Otterlo with an odd look, but the perspective soon changes. Nostalgia for the old life still exists and letters also seem to be a way to satisfy this desire, but the distance increases: “Gloom – it’s no use for your grandchildren to end.” Local problems arise, such as the swine plague and the announcement of a center for asylum seekers.
Address, The worst is yet to come, appears to be a reaction to the optimism implanted in American culture, which goes against the irony that Lammers like to use. His style is similar to Fosquel’s (which Lammers mentions regularly), but his texts are also “Kafka” and the desk It reminds him a lot of Leiden time.
Lammers’ preference is “people who don’t make life more complicated than it often is, people who have a good sense of humor and the ability to set things right.” He tries to maintain this style, even when the drama of life imposes itself in the letters. The serious illnesses his “other half” suffers from and the informal care he has to provide, as well as his health failing him, put the world’s problems into perspective.
Perhaps Lammers describe the meaning of this book best in the words of fellow Leiden colleague Johan Huizinga about the bliss of old age, ‘the atmosphere of withdrawal that falls outside the sense of the present’. In which life questions are not solved, but you get rid of them. This makes these messages not only very entertaining but also relaxing.
Alphonse Lammers: The worst is yet to come. Prometheus. 416 pages 30 euros.
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