Saturday, July 16, 2016

Why the Dutch Are Different by Ben Coates

Why the Dutch Are Different
Ben Coates
3/5 stars

(I was given this ARC by the Amazon Vine program in return for an honest review.)

In Why the Dutch Are Different, a Brit living in the Netherlands writes a mix of travelogue, history, anecdotes and personal narrative apparently with the intent of showing just why the Dutch are different.  Coates visits throughout the Netherlands and, in a rambling way, gives a great deal of information about each location.  For the most part, though, this information gives a feeling of how the Dutch came to be "Dutch", but not why they are different.  Frankly, he covers that early in the book, with the reason for the Dutch being how they are due to the obvious answer of land and water issues--an answer which honestly does not take nearly three hundred pages to explain.

This book is densely packed with information; so much so that it is overwhelming.  Since much of it didn't seem to relate to the point I was expecting him to eventually make (why the Dutch are different), and since the prose was not engaging, I found myself wanting to skim and skip.  I think this book would be best read by picking it up occasionally and reading one or two of the short essays, instead of trying to read it all at once.

Coates seems ambivalent toward the Dutch.  At one moment he is admiring their ingenuity, the next he is using stereotypes in a derogatory way.  I'm sure it's his way of introducing humor  (". . . shared the common Dutch belief that there was no such thing as too much hair gel"  and "towns with names that could choke a child") but it seemed disrespectful to the people that he was showcasing.

Furthermore, while Coates writes well technically, there was no sparkle to his prose; he never pulled me in and made me genuinely interested.  I don't know if this is the fault of the writer or of the reader.

Why the Dutch Are Different is certainly interesting, but not gripping.  I think a better title--a more achievable central idea--and a lot of editing out of anecdotes would have improved it.  This is, of course, only my personal opinion (which is what a review is, after all) and I've no doubt it will appeal more to some readers than it did to me.

Note: This is just my opinion; 41% of the reviews are 4 stars.

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