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“How is it that for as long as I can remember, there has never been peace and harmony in the senior henhouse?  Surely one would expect more common sense, patience, and respect from the Netherlands’ elders!  With old age comes wisdom, goes the adage.  Ha! Let me modify that: with old age comes the mudslinging.”

coverIn this sequel to The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 1/4 Years Old, “Hendrik Groen” continues his iconoclastic and irreverent commentary on life in a senior care center outside of Amsterdam.   A full year has passed since Hendrik Groen completed his earlier diary in 2013, and now, in 2015, he has finally decided to start another one.  “This diary will give me a sense of purpose again,” he believes. “It forces me to stay alert, to put my eyes to work and my ear to the ground, and obliges me to follow the developments in our care home as well as what’s happening in the rest of the world….Brain gymnastics to keep the mind sharp.”  He introduces the diary by stating that at his age, now eighty-five, he has approximately an eighty percent chance of living through the year, a “one-in-five-chance” of not being around to complete his diary – and if that happens, he wants no whining.  He then begins by re-introducing his best friend, Evert, announcing in his diary’s first entry that “Evert used to be partial to planting his New Year’s firecrackers in dog poo or, even more spectacularly, horse droppings [though] those were of course less common.”  Now Evert’s big regret is that the “bangers” are so big that he is afraid to use them for fear of blowing himself up in his wheelchair. 


Rollator, used by many seniors for balance.


Scooter, a power vehicle for roads – and for fun!

This description in the opening paragraph of his January 1, 2015, entry does, in some ways, show the evolution in Hendrik’s attitudes since the previous one.  Though he still has his sense of humor and his look-on-the-bright-side attitude toward life, he reflects a darker vision, overall, some of it related to his dissatisfaction with the care home’s director, the policies she enforces, and her lack of attention to minor issues which, if fixed, would make the lives of residents much happier.  Still willing to flout some of the home’s regulations which he considers silly, Hendrik, often called “Henk” in this sequel, and his close friends from the “Old But Not Dead Club” have had a New Year’s Eve banquet in Evert’s sheltered housing flat, where cooking is allowed – unlike in Hendrik’s own “care” unit.  Then they watched the neighborhood fireworks from another resident’s top floor room and ultimately fired off “a single illicit rocket on behalf of us all, as a mutinous raspberry aimed at the management.”  Their celebration lasts till 2 a.m., but their happiness does not last long.  Only a few days later Hendrik’s diary includes a mournful tribute to the passing of Eefje, his “darling,” whose death last year from Alzheimer’s was so difficult for him that he did not feel like writing in his diary at all.

The Kroller Muller Sculpture Garden, a popular place for trips by seniors.

The Kroller Muller Sculpture Garden, a popular place for trips by seniors.

Some concern is also registered early in the diary about the fact that “the vigor of the residents hasn’t improved in the past year.  The weakest and oldest have left us, and instead of hale and hearty seventy-year-olds taking their place, we’ve welcomed into the fold several old crocks well into their late eighties.”  One woman was there for only a day-and-a-half before she died, having drunk only one cup of tea, leading to a discussion of whether “the deceased would have to pay the whole month’s rent anyway.”  Stricter criteria for admission to care homes is becoming a major problem throughout the country, as more very elderly must remain at home before they “qualify,” and the present residents are noticing that some vacancies in their own home are not being filled.  “By 2020, 800 of the 2,000 care homes will have to close.  That is 40 percent,”  Hendrik notes.  Questions of when or whether their own home is slated for demolition are spreading “like a flu epidemic.”  A group visit to a nearby “old age home” is discouraging, as the home is being reconfigured and will include expensive apartments, a nursing home, and a traditional home like theirs, though dramatically reduced in size. 

Sail Amsterdam, a summer event which the Old But Not Dead Club attends.

Sail Amsterdam, a summer event which the Old But Not Dead Club attends.

Gradually, the reader comes to know Hendrik more intimately than was possible in the first novel.  His marriage, wife, and family are mentioned here, along with his job as headmaster of a primary school for thirty-five years.  A friend in the care home, who is seriously ill but who has shared the bad news regarding his approaching death only with Hendrik, makes him even more human in his expressions of sadness, revealing more empathy with his friend, and his thoughts about his own future.  The death of a beloved service dog, a trip to the cemetery to look at cemetery plots, and the eventual death of his friend make Hendrik’s life more grim, and his list of good friends even smaller.  Still, he soldiers on, working with the Old But Not Dead Club to take over the Residents Committee and regain some control over the actions of the administration.   In the meantime, the Club has added visits to ethnic restaurants to their regular social activities, such as their trips to parks, museums, and cultural events throughout the area, and while the Club’s own eight members enjoy these private events, the rest of the home’s residents, who are not included because the Club’s private bus is too small, often resent their own exclusion.

Asperitas, the first "new" cloud to be labeled since 1951, a symbol for Hendrik. Photo by Witta Priester.

Asperitas, the first “new” cloud to be labeled since 1951, is symbolic, for Hendrik. Photo by Witta Priester.

Some new residents add to the interesting mix of elderly here, with a new resident from Turkey piquing Hendrik’s interest when he discusses the Cloud Appreciation Club, an international group which has recently registered the first new cloud to be identified since 1951 – the Asperitas.  Hendrik, fascinated, is discouraged by the attitudes of his fellow residents, who would “rather sit staring blankly out the window with the awning down,” and he determines to pay more attention when he is looking out, imagining how wonderful it would be if he “saw a bubble cloud” before he died.

Though this sequel continues the stories of many of the previous characters from Groen’s first book, the mood is quite different, and the focus is not so sharp.  Some international news is inserted here.  The fact that Greece is on the verge of bankruptcy, that there is a major sex scandal in the British House of Lords, and that many horrific deaths have occurred recently among Syrian refugees are not directly connected to a book about life in a “care home,” which, at 440 pages, could have been condensed significantly, its focus sharpened.  Fans of the first novel will enjoy seeing what has happened to characters in the ensuing two years.  Newcomers who have not yet “met” Hendrik Groen, however, may find it advantageous to begin with the more focused – and more humorous – first novel, The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 1/4 Years Old.

cover henrik groenPhotos.  The mobility scooter appears on https://www.ebay.co.uk/

The rollator, which many of the home’s residents use regularly, is found on https://www.amazon.com

The Kroller Muller Sculpture Garden is in High Veluwe National Park:  http://www.tapooztravel.com/

Sail Amsterdam was a feature of the summer at the home:  https://www.yourlittleblackbook.me

Asperitas, the first “new” cloud to be labeled since 1951, was a symbol for Hendrik. Photo by Witta Priester.  https://www.flickr.com/

REVIEW. PHOTOS. Humor, Satire, Literary, Netherlands, Social and Political Issues
Written by: Hendrik Groen
Published by: Grand Central Publishing
Date Published: 03/19/2019
ISBN: 978-1538746639
Available in: Ebook Hardcover

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