A Foolish Virgin
By Ida Simons
A rediscovered classic of Dutch literature that was hailed as "the Dutch Stoner" and compared to The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank when it topped bestseller lists and critics' choices upon reissue in 2014
It is the middle of the roaring twenties, and Gittel is living The Hague with her parents, whose blazing rows are the traditional preserve of Sundays and public holidays. What luck, then, that Gittel is Jewish, and must submit to "the double helping of public holidays that is the lot of Jewish families".
After every matrimonial slanging match, Gittel's mother runs off to her parents' home in Antwerp - with her daugher in tow. Much to her delight, Gittel makes the acquaintance of the well-to-do Mardell family, who allow her to practise on their Steinway. Gittel feels that she is taken seriously by Mr Mardell, the head of the household, and by thirty-year-old Lucie, whom she adores.
When these friendships turn out to be nothing but an illusion, Gittel learns her first lessons about trust and betrayal. Her second comes soon after, when her father, whose talents for business leave much to be desired, attempts to make a quick killing in Berlin on the eve of the Wall Street Crash.
Though this intimate portrayal of familial strife is set in the shadow of the Holocaust, Simons says little about the horror that awaits her characters, yet she succeeds in giving the reader the sense that the novel is about more than a young girl's loss of innocence. In a fluid, almost casual style, she has written a masterly and timeless ode to a relatively carefree interlude in a dark and dramatic period.
Translated from the Dutch by Liz Waters
Ida Simons (1911-1960) was a writer and a pianist, whose successful career came to an end with the German invasion. She was deported to Westerbork and Theresienstadt, along with her family. After the war, she gave more concerts, and then began to write. A Foolish Virgin was first published in 1959, and was highly regarded at the time. Unfortunately, her work sank into oblivion after her untimely death, but since its rediscovery in 2014 it has been translated into twenty-two languages and published widely.
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- Publication date:
02 Nov 2017
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[A] delicious . . . waspishly witty story of family squabbles and romances from the perspective of a sharp-eyed buy innocent girl . . . Simons' achievement is such that we think . . . of Muriel Spark - even Jane Austen. — Boyd Tonkin, Financial Times.
All the makings of a word-by-mouth classic . . . Dazzlingly captures the ebullient voice of an endearingly guileless young girl as she teeters on the edge of the infinitely more precarious world of adulthood. — Claire Allfree, Daily Mail.
Simons has an impressive lightness of touch which balances the darker theme of betrayal . . . An atmospheric inter-war study of family ties and the more fleeting affection of shallow alliances — Eileen Battersby, Irish Times
Found: the Dutch Stoner. A debut between Franz Kafka and John Cheever. A must-read book. — De Standaard.
The Jane Austen of 1920's Antwerp. The success of Ida Simons is mainly due to the quality of the novel. A Foolish Maiden is still charming after half a century since it was written. The language is fresh, humoristic and sober. — Trouw.
Gittel reminds us of Anne Frank. — Nederlands Dagblad
This rediscovered novel from 1959 from the Dutch-Flemish Ida Simons is this summer's Stoner. — Algemeen Dagblad.
An extraordinary novel. Musical prose. Ida Simons shows she is a self-conscious writer in this sensitive yet unsentimental novel. It is incomprehensible that this book hasn't been read for many years. There's no need to read another novel for the time being. — NRC Handelsblad.
This is the Dutch equivalent of Stoner. The novel is remarkably timeless. The language is light and simple, sometimes even poetic and Ida Simons is especially strong in her understatement, which yields a friendly and sometimes biting humor. — De Morgen.