If a single individual may be said to "personify" the Holocaust -- a status that is surely an unbearable burden -- that person must be Anne Frank. Her diary, compiled as a series of letters addressed "Dear Kitty" and kept for more than 2 years until her arrest on August 4, 1944, has come to symbolize the plight of millions of Jews during the Nazi terror. The Diary of a Young Girl (1947) includes photos of Anne and the people she hid with, plus a map of the secret annex in the house on Prinsengracht.
For a personal insight into Vincent van Gogh's life and art, read Ken Wilkie's The Van Gogh File: A Journey of Discovery (1990). What began as a routine magazine assignment in 1972 to coincide with the opening of the Van Gogh Museum became exactly what the book's subtitle indicates: A journey that continued long after the article was published. Wilkie followed van Gogh's trail through the Netherlands, Belgium, England, and France. Along the way, Wilkie met some of the last surviving people to have known or met the artist.
The Booker Prize-winning short novel Amsterdam (1998) plays with themes of love and friendship, death and mortality, and on Amsterdam's status as a city where euthanasia laws are relatively liberal, but most of it actually takes place in England. In that sense the city is more of a city of the mind than a real place.
Far more sense of place is provided by Nicolas Freeling's Love in Amsterdam (1962), the first in his series of Inspector Piet Van der Valk detective novels, and even though it's the Amsterdam of almost a half century ago, the city is easily recognizable, and something of a co-protagonist. Much the same could be said of Alistair MacLean's thriller Puppet on a Chain (1969).
Simon Schama's The Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age (1987) lets you inside Amsterdam's greatest period. Schama, adeptly, is simultaneously lighthearted and scholarly -- a chapter headed "The Pretzel and the Puppy Dog" refers to a portrait by Jacob Cuyp. Most of the 700 pages feature works of art that are explained in the text. Schama succeeds in his intention "to map out the moral geography of the Dutch mind, adrift between the fear of deluge and the hope of moral salvage."
Amsterdam-born film director Paul Verhoeven is probably the best-known Dutch filmmaker -- though that doesn't mean that Verhoeven's Hollywood films, such as Basic Instinct, RoboCop, and Starship Troopers, contain much (if anything) inspired by his hometown. Closer to home is his wartime resistance drama Soldier of Orange (1977), starring Jeroen Krabbé and Rutger Hauer. Another wartime drama, The Assault, won the Oscar for best Foreign Language Film in 1986.
Amsterdam starred as the darkly atmospheric setting of the underworld in the thriller Puppet on a Chain (1972), based on the novel of the same name by Scots writer Alistair MacLean -- which contained a memorable chase sequence on the canals. And it played a supporting role in the James Bond movie Diamonds Are Forever (1971). In Girl With a Pearl Earring (2003), Scarlett Johansson and Colin Firth star in an appropriately moody interpretation of the "backstory" to the Vermeer painting, set and partly filmed in Delft.
Should you want to dine on a movie set, head for Chinese restaurant Nam Kee in Amsterdam, which played a notable role in the Dutch red-hot romance flick De Oesters van Nam Kee (The Oysters of Nam Kee; 2002).
About the only well-known song in English to feature Holland in a starring role is Tulips From Amsterdam (1956), which was originally written in German. This dose of concentrated saccharine keeps the unlikely company of pot-smoking, sex-tourism, and gay parades as a popular image of the city. Kids might likely be more familiar with A Windmill in Old Amsterdam (1965), which tells a heart-warming tale of "a little mouse with clogs on, going clip-clippety-clop on the stair."
Hard to say for sure, but it could be that the most successful pop song in English by a Dutch band is Venus, released in 1969 by the group Shocking Blue. It reached number one in the U.S. charts and sold a million copies within a year. Bananarama had further success with their disco version in 1986.
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