Read for Cannonball Run Bingo. Category: White Whale.
The World Cup was on this past summer and anytime I see it, I’m inclined to read more books about soccer. I’m a big sports fan but my interest in soccer really only begun about 12 years ago when, bored out of my mind for the summer of 2006, I watched the World Cup fastidiously. Soccer is now perhaps my fourth favorite sport after baseball, football, and basketball and I’m wearing a New York City FC shirt in anticipation of the game tonight.
I’m also a history junkie, particularly World War II. My senior seminar in grad school was on The Church and the Holocaust. Educating ourselves in such history, exhausting though it may be, helps to provide a rosetta stone for the times we live in.
So I was eager to read this highly recommended book. However, I spent most of this summer doing several library book bingos and didn’t have the chance or excuse to shoehorn this one in until I finished them. I’ve read snippets of this book at my local Barnes and Nobel in anticipation and was quite excited when I finally got the chance to sit down and knock it out.
Simon Kuper is a gifted writer and a great historian. He gets the most out of his interview subjects. Fortunately for us, this book was originally published in the Netherlands in 2001 so there were still people to be interviewed. The focus of it was on the conduct of the Netherlands towards its residential Jewish population during World War II and how soccer intertwined with the attitudes.
While I was expecting a simple start-to-finish narrative, Kuper bounces around from subject-to-subject, at times covering Jewish neighborhoods, soccer clubs, contemporary Dutch history and politics, soldiers in the war effort and other assorted areas. I learned a lot about the Netherlands as a nation, how and why the people act the way they do and what compelled their passive behavior during the war.
Kuper is out to bust myths and perhaps the biggest one is that the Dutch were friendly and protective to Jews. While there were some who sacrificed (he uses the dialectical phrase goed to describe them), most people went along to get along with the deportations of Holland’s Jews. They then perpetuated a myth for decades that Holland was good to its Jewish population. Kuper details the origins of and the problems with said myth. He doesn’t gratuitously dump on the Dutch, rather he looks honestly at their claims and debunks them.
It’s a good book to read if you’re interested in history. You don’t need to like soccer to appreciate it but if you’re a soccer fan, you’ll enjoy the soccer material in it.