Written by Stannah
“The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 ¼ Years Old”. This unique diary has won over readers far beyond its homeland (the Netherlands). In fact, the translation rights of the award-winning book have been sold to more than 35 countries! The book is on the international best-sellers list and has since been developed into a play as well as a television series for Dutch TV.
Like Hendrik says in his diary, “Old is fashionable”, and he has found his way into the hearts of thousands of people, all around the world. Stannah has also fallen for the charms of Hendrik’s style, and the hilarious but sometimes intensely sad passages about his life in a nursing home in Northern Amsterdam.
We’ve read the book cover to cover, and would like to share our thoughts with you.
Table of contents
Hendrik Groen; The Old-But-Not-Dead Club!
Hendrik Groen is a charming elderly man who is 83 ¼ years old and is spending his last years in a nursing home in Northern Amsterdam. Our improbable hero immediately tells us that he doesn’t like the elderly himself. As a way of making things more interesting, at the beginning of 2013 he decided to keep a diary of the “miraculous” perils of old age, with the intent of having it read out loud by his best friend at his funeral. Hendrik’s diary is written in such a way that it feels like we’re reading a letter from a dear old friend. You immediately feel taken in by his gentleness, but also by his Amsterdam sense of humour: slightly on the dark side and a bit provocative. His friendliness and intelligence seal the deal.
His diary offers a collection of hilarious, heart-warming and wise words all served with a large dose of self-deprecation.
You could say that it’s a fictitious autobiographical book, written by the “author” of the diary, our dear “Henry Green”. The book transports us into Hendrik´s life, where we spend one year in an Amsterdam nursing home. Every day he writes about what’s going on, and especially about what’s not going on.
“Life here consists of Never or Always”
in The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 ¼ Years Old
The diary tells us the story of how Hendrik searches for what is still worth living for. Together with his best friend Evert, the newest inhabitant of the nursing home Eefje and 3 other friends/ co-residents, they start the Old-But-Not-Dead club. The idea of the club is that every member occasionally organizes an outing, so that the club members have fun, interesting things to do with their time, and don’t just sit and wait “behind the geraniums” (like the administrators of the Home more or less expect them to do).
Hendrik’s reports of the outings are a real pleasure to read, and it makes the reader (and perhaps especially the younger reader) think, while also being entertained. With a little goodwill, a little help and a few good friends there’s still so much to enjoy in life… even when you’re well into your 80s.
A roller coaster of emotions for young and old.
The book maps out so many different subjects, from the simplest aspects of life to the sometimes deeply sad and inevitable facts of old age, such as dementia and the changes our bodies and minds undergo as we age. But, it is certainly not all gloom and doom! In fact, Hendrik and the rest of the club are very much against nagging, gloomy people! As Hendrik describes in his book, his best friend Evert would like to see the words “Nagging is not allowed” on the facade of the Home.
“There’s this 80-year-old guy who climbed Mount Everest, I’ve had trouble with the curbs” “The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 ¼ Years Old”.
It’s not surprising that the book has been so successful, and still scores highly on international bestseller lists. Hendrik takes the reader to a world we’ve all been in contact with at one point in our lives, be it with our grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles or neighbours. Old age is always around us, it’s an inevitable aspect of one’s life (or at least it should be). While reading, you come across passages with problems that elderly residents encounter, but someone under the age of 65 never really dwells on. Our Hendrik tries, no matter how good or bad things get, to keep seeing the glass half full, which sometimes leads to hilarious moments. It’s endearing and we are humbled by the immensity of human life.
Hendrik writes about all sorts of things, like what goes on in the Home on a normal day, the importance of his Club, the outings and the management of the Home, which sometimes really leaves a lot to be desired. However, he also writes about intimate and sad moments of his life, and what he struggles with day-to-day.
Current affairs that were big in 2013 also pop up, like for example the coronation of the Dutch king and the election of the new Pope. A lot of attention is paid to the cuts in healthcare costs and the general way in which a rich country such as the Netherlands treats its oldest subjects. Indeed, Hendrik is not afraid to speak his mind (luckily so) when it comes to sharing his opinion with his diary! The relationships between parents and children, that change and sometimes become unrecognizable are also real eye openers. But as mentioned earlier, Hendrik is completely against lecturing people.
Issues such as proper guidance for euthanasia and dementia care (especially Alzheimer’s disease) are often raised. Hendrik writes about these subjects in a loving and emotional way, although he’s never sentimental about it, as he adds quite a big dose of humour to the mix, always with respect and in an endearing way. We at Stannah have to admit that it wasn’t always easy to keep our eyes dry, sometimes due to laughter and sometimes due to tears.
“It’s not an uplifting notion, that in Europe alone there’re 120 arenas full of people who suffer from dementia”. “The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 ¼ Years Old”.
The “Hendrik Groen effect” on the world.
Source: dagboekhendrikgroen @facebook
Hendrik around the world!
As we mentioned before, the translation rights of the book have already been sold to more than 35 countries. The picture above shows a selection of the versions that have already been translated. What an amazing result! Considering that many people in today’s society ignore the daily issues facing our senior citizens, that is very impressive!
But who is Hendrik Groen?
The mystery surrounding the identity of the author has intrigued many Hendrik Groen fans for almost 2 years, added to by the fact that publisher, Meulenhoff, has not released any information at all about the matter. The book itself does not make any mention of the author themselves – the only name given is Hendrik Groen’s. For a long time, it has been a mystery as to who the spiritual mother or father of our elderly hero is. In 2016, big Dutch newspapers such as the Volkskrant and the Parool announced that the mystery was solved, and that the author’s true identity was finally out, but because the real writer is not looking for a life in the spotlight, he (it has been confirmed the author is a he) stays far away from it. Maybe that’s why Hendrik said the following in his diary:
“Maybe that’s the best way to be famous, when only friends and family know that it’s you.” “The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 ¼ Years Old”.
Hendrik on Stage
Dutch theatre producer Bos Theaterproducties has converted the bestselling phenomenon into a stage play. Director Gijs de Lange indicates that they have chosen young actors to play the roles of Hendrik and his club because, “There’s still a young person hidden inside the mind of every elderly person”. Also, a fun fact about the play is that senior citizens from local nursing homes are asked to participate in each performance as extras!
Hendrik on tv
As of the 23rd of October, Hendrik will also come to life on the small screen – only in The Netherlands for now, but you never know! Dutch broadcaster Omroep MAX has created a promising television series based on Hendrik’s diary starring well-known, respected Dutch actors in the leading rolls. Colourful characters such as always grumpy “Mister Bakker”, the friendly “Graeme” and Evert’s ancient dog “Mo” will also have their moment to shine.
One of the most important subjects the book touches on, is the importance Hendrik and his fellow residents give to being able to live as independently as possible and have a dignified life. He has difficulty with some unreasonable rules prescribed by the nursing home and he often compares the home to a school, where the residents are rapped on the fingers, just like children, when they “behave badly”. Hendrik approaches these difficult themes seriously but of course, keeps it light, always accompanied with a healthy dose of Dutch humour!
“The manufacturer assumes that elderly people are morons, and that they understand drawings of a snail and a hare better than for example gear 1 or 2. The manufacturer could be right about that though.”“The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 ¼ Years Old”.
“The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 ¼ Years Old” has definitely passed Stannah’s test. It even conquered a special spot in our hearts. We can’t wait to read Hendrik’s second book; “On the Bright Side, the New Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen” which is already available. We recommend that anyone who has not read the book yet should do so today!
If there’s one thing that we’ve learned from Hendrik, it’s that with a little bit of good spirit, a lot of humour and a few “non-nagging” people around you, there’s still a lot to make of life.