‘Leve Joop Massaker’, a Rotterdam Novel by Cornelis Bastiaan Vaandrager
There are many novels set in Rotterdam. Each of them show another, new side of the city. For Rotterdam, I Love You, I will discuss some of these novels. Today, the classical story of Leve Joop Massaker (Long live Joop Massaker), written by Cornelis Bastiaan Vaandrager and first published in 1960. This article may contain spoilers!
Prodigy going downhill
Leve Joop Massaker is the first novel of Rotterdam’s own C.B. Vaandrager. His career started promising. At age 25 he published the novel and it was critically acclaimed in the Netherlands. He was even compared to Gerard Reve and Hugo Claus, some of the best Dutch writers that ever existed.
After this success, he developed himself as a poet and published a few poems, more or less autobiographical. He developed an original and highly recognizable style. One immediately knows the text is written by Vaandrager when reading it. He used short sentences. Sometimes using one word to describe something. You could get a weird feeling when reading Vaandrager for the first time, almost like it is the worst writing in history. But, once you get passed that point and you understand his writing style, his stories are very fast and energetic.
Unfortunately, his success didn’t last. A decade after his debut Vaandrager, started to suffer from depression and was hospitalized for long periods of time. Back on the streets he used a lot of drugs. He became known as the junky writer. Scouring the streets of Rotterdam, in search for drugs or a place to stay. He died in 1992 (age 56), without fulfilling his full potential. Rotterdam lost one of its greatest.
Life changing holiday
Let us get back to his better days, the days of his debut. The first positive thing is the length of his novel. He wrote a short novel (60 pages), unlike Reve and Claus with whom he was compared. So, the length of the book isn’t an excuse not to read it! The story is about a boy from Rotterdam (Casper Lampe, in the newer edition the main character is the writer himself) who is enjoying a holiday on the West Frisian Islands. There he meets Joop Massaker and his sister Thea. Without spoiling too much: the three of them hang out with each other during the holiday and have some crazy adventures. When Casper is back to Rotterdam he runs into Joop again by accident. Joop takes Casper to his home, which is radically different from his own and Casper struggles to comprehend this.
Becoming an adult
I’ll be fair. This doesn’t sound too exiting or interesting. But I don’t have the talent that Vaandrager had. He manages to make the story quite compelling and breathtaking. Casper is fascinated by Joop, who is cool and milestones ahead of Casper. Joop is someone to look up to, according to Casper. In the beginning of the book Casper is still just a kid. At the end, he is a high school kid, with a matching attitude. Vaandrager does an amazing job in the way he writes Caspers coming of age process. You really feel connected with the latter and understand his thinking. Overall the book is a little-known classic in the coming of age genre.
His other works
Leve Joop Massaker isn’t the only great book written by Vaandrager. His other work is great as well (I highly recommend De Reus van Rotterdam). Vaandrager is different than other poets, so even if you generally don’t like poetry you may enjoy his work. If you enjoy Leve Joop Massaker you should try his other (short) novels and poems. The man deserves to be read.