I'm taking an evening Dutch class here in Haarlem. The instructor, Gerard -- tall, skinny, mid-40s, sense of humor, fine enunciating voice, patient and calm -- never gives the feeling that he's just doing his job. If I ever teach English here, I hope to emulate him. With ease he handles all of us, with our different advantages and difficulties, from Poland, Iraq, Spain, Morocco, Romania, South Africa, Guatemala, Venezuela, Turkey, and the U.S. (there's one other American).
Anyway, for his contact info he gave us his URL. The class has been going for months, but it wasn't until last week that I, on a lark, typed it in. Turns out he's a writer who has published three novels and three books of stories and done other writerly stuff. One of his links in particular caught my eye, in which he recommends books "for a foggy fall afternoon." Among them: Cheever's stories, books by Tobias Wolff, David Leavitt, Nabokov, A.M. Holmes, Raymond Carver ... and Ethan Canin (Emperor of the Air, which was pubbed in Dutch as Nachtreizigers (from the story "We Are Night Travelers").
Next class, I approached him after the bell and said, "I checked out your Web site and see you are a writer. I really liked your list of books and was pleased to see Ethan Canin in there."
"Oh!" he gushed, in raptured English. "Eth-uhn Cahn-uhn is my idol! Better than Carver!"
"Do you read those books in English or Dutch?"
"Sometimes English, but my English is not that good. I've read most of those books in Dutch."
"That's funny because ... Eth-an Can-in" -- (I actually hedged on this, falling somewhere between the correct pronunciation and the Dutch one) -- "was my teacher!"
His eyes bulged. "Oh, but this is rare! Whatever happened to him?"
"He's teaching and still writing. He's written a few movies. I think he has a new novel coming out." (He does, aimed for next June.)
"How old is Eth-uhn Cahn-un?" Then he looked a little worried. "Do you say ... Eth-un Cahn-un, or...?"
"EEETH-an CAYN-an. I believe he's 46 or so."
"Oh, good." Nodding soberly. "Then there will be more. I bought that book of stories when it came out here. I think it flopped, but I went around to everyone I knew and said you simply have to read these stories."
I asked if he had read The Palace Thief. No. Or heard of Richard Yates, who would fit right in on his list. He had not. So next class I brought The Palace Thief and Eleven Kinds of Loneliness to loan him.
"I will bring for you next time the Eth-uhn Cahn-uhn stories in Dutch." Here's where I caught the twinkle in his eye. "Perhaps I should make your extra assignment to read them?"
So that should be interesting. The most advanced book in Dutch I've tackled is Pietje Bell in Amerika, by Chris van Abkoude, one in a kind of wry, comical Dutch boy's adventure series (that is actually reminding me of the Chums of Chance in Against the Day). Takes me about half an hour to fully understand every word on a page of Pietje Bell. At that rate, it will take me 89 hours to read Nachtreizigers. Hopefully knowing the stories will help me get better faster at the language! Who woulda thought?
"Next time you see Eth-uhn Cahn-un again," he added as we were leaving, "tell him in Holland he has at least one fan, but he is a great big fan."