The city has inspired an abundance of brilliant books.
Amsterdam means something different to each individual person. The city has been many things in its past, from the city was first recognised in 1275 and known as Amstelledamme, through The Golden Age and into the modern-day – writers have always had something to say about Amsterdam. Amsterdam has a strong literary tradition, and its popularity as the setting for world-reknowned books ain’t going away any time soon.
1. Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl
The Diary of a Young Girl will forever play an important part in the literary culture of Amsterdam. It has been translated into 67 languages and over 30 million copies have sold since its publication in 1947. This brave and impressive diary was kept by Anne Frank, whose family went into hiding during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. This diary has touched the hearts of so many people because of the startling contrast between the innocence of childhood and the cruelty of the Nazis.
2. Jessie Burton, The Miniaturist
This international bestseller was inspired by Petronella Oortman’s doll’s house, which is on display at the Rijksmuseum. It’s 1686 in Amsterdam and the protagonist, Nella Oortman, has just turned 18. Her father has left her with no money and she is forced to marry somebody far older than herself to ensure financial security. Her husband is not receptive to her affections and she finds solace in one of his gifts – a dollhouse. However, things are far more complicated than they first appear to be.
3. David Liss, The Coffee Trader
It seems that the world cannot get enough of 17th century Amsterdam as David Liss too set his novel in the second half of the century – 1659. Mercantilism was in its heyday and the Dutch had a monopoly on trade in Europe. We call this period The Golden Age but it was as grubby as any other, and this is how David Liss positions his novel. It is the story of a man struggling to find his way in the world of Golden Age merchants.
4. Ian McEwan, Amsterdam
Two friends meet in London to mourn their mutual ex-lover, Molly. The conversation about Molly’s health before her death inspires the two men to form a suicide pact, and if you’re wondering where Amsterdam comes into all of this – I can’t tell you, it will ruin the book! Seriously though, this book is worth reading if you want to feel like your brain has been flipped sideways.
5. John Green, The Fault In Our Stars
Two teenagers escape the loneliness of cancer and find solace in the company of one another. They read each other’s favourite books and one becomes frustrated by the lack of closure in one of those books. So, they set out for Amsterdam, to try and meet the author and hopefully gain and end up finding the catharsis they seek in each other. Warning: it’s heartbreaking.
6. John Irving, A Widow For One Year
The novel opens in 1958 with 4-year-old Ruth Cole who is constantly reminded of her brothers’ deaths in a car accident by the multitude of photos around the house depicting them. Her parents are unhappy and unfaithful to one another. Her mother is still grieving for her sons and is driven into the arms of a teenager who looks like her dead so by her husband (I know, right). Soon Ruth’s mother disappears. Ruth grows up and goes to Amsterdam, where she witnesses the murder of a sex-worker, and it all just spirals from there. It’s madness, but it’s great.
7. Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch
Theodore Decker is only 13 years old, and at this tender age, he has witnessed a terrorist bomb kill his mother. He manages to survive the attack, and from the debris takes a small painting of a goldfinch from the Dutch Golden Age. He goes to live with a wealthy family, and in these alien surroundings, his attentions turn more and more to the world of art. The goldfinch painting is taken from him and he heads to Amsterdam in pursuit of it. This novel begins with a very dark scene and it doesn’t get any lighter, so prepare to cry your eyes out.
8. Deborah Moggach, Tulip Fever
The Dutch Golden Age is again the setting for Tulip Fever and the title is no metaphor. The population of Amsterdam is going mad for tulips – they can’t get enough of that sweet, tulip scent. Men are really in love with this flower, as obviously all Amsterdammers are. However, one man is in love with his wife instead and they’re struggling to have children. Then his wife starts falling in love with a painter and it’s romance, deceit and desire from thereon in.
9. Cees Nooteboom, Rituals
The characters in Nooteboom’s novel could not be more different than one another. Inni Wintrop have no time for rules. He wants life to take him on a journey and he lets the wind blow through his hair. However, when he meets two men who are sticklers for rules and order, things change.
10. Dubravka Ugresic, The Ministry of Pain
Tanja Lucic flees Yugoslavia as the country breaks down and finds herself teaching literature students at a university in Amsterdam. A lot of these students have also fled Yugoslavia and she encourages them to write about their culture, history and unique experiences. However, not all of her students are receptive to this idea and things start to get out of hand.