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The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen Hardcover – July 11, 2017
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"Amusing [and] wickedly accurate...Reading The Secret Diary, I was constantly put in mind of Ken Kesey's madhouse tale One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, another comi-tragedy concerning the tyranny of institutions of the unwanted. Enjoy Groen's light touch but do not be fooled by it....The Secret Diary is a handbook of resistance for our time."―The Express (UK)
"Funny and frank - a story with a great deal of heart."―Graeme Simsion, New York Times bestselling author of The Rosie Project
"A story about how friendship, selflessness and dignity lie at the heart of the human experience. When I'm an old man, I want to be Hendrik Groen."―John Boyne, internationally bestselling author of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas
"An incredible picture of friendship... something we could all stand to emulate, no matter where we are in our lives."―Bookpage, Top Fiction Pick for July
"Interspersed with Groen's biting wit and comic take on aging and all it entails... A page-turning delight for adult readers of any age and locale."―Booklist, starred review
"Poignant and true-to-life, an international bestseller."―Minneapolis Star Tribune
"Engaging and hilarious, Hendrik's diary gives a dignity and respect to the elderly often overlooked in popular culture, providing readers a look into the importance of friendship and the realities of the senior care system in modern society."―Publisher's Weekly
About the Author
Hendrik Groen started his diary on the literary website of Torpedo Magazine. He says about his novel: "There's not one sentence that's a lie, but not every word is true." The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen has been translated into over twenty languages.
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Top customer reviews
Groen hilariously and poignantly chronicles daily life as an 83 year-old. When he begins writing in his diary, he has two people he counts as friends, Evert who lives in the apartment section of the home and Anja, the assistant to the Administrator of the nursing home. The diary provides Groen an outlet for his frustrations about growing old and spurs him to make something of the life he has left. By the time the year is over, he has an entire group of friends, the Old-But-Not-Yet-Dead Club, loyal and kind individuals who work to help each other when illness or tragedy befalls a member. Sadly, several of his friends have health issues during the year, ranging from losing a leg to the onset of Alzheimer’s to having a stroke. Groen details how he personally and the group deals with these issues, and the support they all provide to each other. The group takes occasional day trips together organized by each member on a rotating basis. Reading about their various day trips was definitely a highlight of the book, from the planning to the execution of each trip and the joy the excursions clearly brought the entire bunch. Midway through the year, after debating at length in his diary, Hendrik purchases an electric scooter. His exploits all around Amsterdam and the mobility his scooter provides him lead to several entertaining passages in his diary. He even visits another resident’s son to “soup up his ride.”
While Groen tells many funny tales, he also addresses some very important and pressing issues in today’s society, including funding and care for the aged, Alzheimer’s, euthanasia, and the racism that certain groups still face. He also reinforces the notion that the elderly deserve a great amount of respect and empathy; something that seems to be missing today. I cannot recommend this book highly enough for all walks of life – all ages can learn so much from the knowledge and insight he imparts. Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the opportunity to read this gem in exchange for an honest review.
"I hereby declare that in this diary I am going to give the world an uncensored exposé: a year in the life of the inmates of a care home in North Amsterdam."
I love epistolary novels - they're quite intimate, letting us into the private world of a character. Through Hendrik's diary entries, we experience the highs and lows of living in a senior's care facility - the conflicts, the friendships, the day to day interactions, the worries, some shenanigans, memories, regrets, hopes and more. And though it's been done before - the us vs. them of management vs. seniors will have the reader cheering for the senior's 'team'.
Hendrik is so wonderfully drawn - he has a good heart, is kind and thoughtful, has a wry sense of humour, is a keen observer and determined to not just 'exist' for however long he may have left. And from that desire, the Old But Not Dead Club is born. The other members of the club are the supporting characters we come to know the most - especially Hendrik's best friend, the irreverent Evert ("His philosophy: the only point of being alive is to kill time as pleasantly as possible. The trick is not to take anything too seriously.") and the simply lovely Eefje.
Hendrik's observations will perhaps encourage the reader to take time with and listen a little more carefully to those nearing the end of their lives. Perhaps they'll also envision what they want their own later years to look like. While this novel is a picture of aging in the Netherlands, the emotions and thoughts expressed are universal.
" Our calendars are completely blank - today, tomorrow, and the rest of the year. We have all the time in the world. We once complained about being overscheduled; now we're thrilled to pieces if there's something to jot down other than a doctor's appointment."
"Old people are forever grunting and groaning. Sometimes it's out of exertion or pain, but more often simply out of habit. I have made a small study of it."
Now, don't think this book is a 'downer' - there are lots of laugh out loud and joyful moments, alongside the realities of being eighty four years old. (And yes, you may need a tissue or two) I found The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen to be a heartstring-tugger of a read and absolutely adored it!
I've discovered that there is another 'Hendrik' diary coming out - "As Long as there is Life continues the story of protagonist Hendrik – now aged 85-years-old - and follows the adventures of The Old But Not Dead Club in the Amsterdam retirement home in which he resides. Internationally, Hendrik Groen has sold in 30 territories including in the US, and a Dutch TV series based on the books, "in the vein of 'The Office', is currently in production.
"Jan 7: An investigation was launched yesterday into the sudden demise of the fish on the third floor. A considerable amount of cake was found floating in the water."
Hendrik Groen doesn't like old people that much. But being as he's 83 and lives in a retirement home, they're hard to escape. He suffers from several ailments, but the good news is that his decline is progressing at an "acceptable rate"-- whatever that means. Even more vexing than the occasional senior moment or the prospect of wearing diapers are the insane and ever-changing rules and regulations at the home-- which no one is allowed to see in print or question. Alongside cutbacks in public services for pensioners, it seems the whole of Holland is ready to write off its greatest generation.
"I can't make the reality prettier than it is: sad, grim, and funny all at once."
He fights back the only way he can: by living. With a couple of like minded friends, he starts the Old But Not Dead club, and they start challenging themselves to do new things. But even being young in spirit-- for a couple of hours a week, at least-- can't keep the realities of old age at bay. For a year, Hendrik keeps a secret diary. It's full of snark and humor and heart, and a reminder that no matter how old you are, there's still life to be lived.
Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for giving me a copy of this book to review.