Book Review: The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, by Hendrik Groen, Hester Velmans

3 Stars

 

I have a secret affection for stories about cantankerous old people, appreciating their disaffected views of the care homes to which they are banished when arthritic joints, heart troubles, and high blood pressure start ravaging their bodies. I love a caper led by a wheelchair-bound rebel, and the more insubordinate the elderly, the more hilarious the story.

Hendrik Groen, who is 83 ¼ in 2013, is conducting a secret war against the governing body of his Amsterdam nursing home, which establishes new rules on a whim, often in response to his own escapades. He recruits a spy in the managing director’s office, who smuggles him the minutes of board meetings, and even hires a lawyer to sue the nursing home for greater transparency.

His affection for his fellow residents—the ones he likes, at least—is endearing. Together with a select band of non-whiners, he establishes The Old but Not Dead Yet Club, which becomes the envy of the nursing home for the outings they undertake twice a month. It is during these trips to museums, wineries, and golf clubs that he falls in love with Eefje, a woman who is comfortable with silence, doesn’t complain, and kisses him on both cheeks when he takes her out for an elegant dinner.

My only suggestion is that the book needed a stronger overarching theme, greater than the year-long diary he keeps. I would have loved it if the book delved more into the tragic death of Hendrik’s daughter, who drowned at the age of 4, or into the decades-long confinement of his bipolar wife. These story lines would have provided greater emotional depth and allowed the reader a sense of who Hendrik was as a father and husband.

Fans of the 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared will enjoy this book.

 

 

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