This month marks the fifteenth year since the Amsterdam writer/translator August Willemsen died. That’s why to be Brazilian letters Reissued, it is a documentary about his long life made and his graph is engraved with a bronze statue.
Everything is corrupt, even death. Less than ten years after he was ordered on the Nieuwe Ooster ter earth, the graph of August Willemsen (1936-2007), the man who died of Portuguese and Braziliaan literature for the Nederlands language area, was half published. The letters on the gravestone were vervaagd en de groeve zelf verkeerde in deplorabele staat – niemand peep er meer naar om, ekne was well clear. Besides those admirers, he left a keurig in plastic sealed brief in November 2017 on the graph: ‘Friends of Guus, of friends of their work (zoals ik), wordt het never eens tijd voor een AW-genootschap om dat werk levend do you keep?’
It took two years for the brief to be there, until it was found by Marie Roelofsen (1942), one of the women who played a major role in Willemsen’s life. Together with de beelend artist Edith Sont (1939), also an ex-gliefde of Willemsen, decided to put the graph on the knappen. The letters on the blanks were made readable again, and an information board was added to the graph, provided with a sturdy hard stone border, plus two tree trunks. Roelofsen: “He is aan de drank died, dus dat wonden we wel passend.”
As the crown of the work is a bronze cup by Willemsen placed near the graph. De beelhouwer Pepe Grégoire made this portrait in 1995 for the Literatuurmuseum in Den Haag, in which he got an extra painting and a new life as ‘De Kop van Gus’. Via crowdfunding, Roelofsen raised 8000 euros for this. “Ik doe dit niet because ik nog verliefd op hem ben – ik heb er verder geen emotionalele binding mee – maar dit komt hem toe. Het graph krigt nu de status die het merited.”
Roelofsen also extended the word in de documentary August Willemsen, the blade and the reality van Frederieke Jochems, in collaboration with Joris Kleverlaan, director of the Stichting August Willemsen. The film sketch is fascinating at the same time and at the same time entroerend beeld of the writer. Willemsen was not only a language virtuoso in the man who introduced Portuguese and Brazilian literature into the Netherlands, he was also a gulzig in soulless men, who in the flesh found his best friend – as ‘Don Juan in the body of Danny Kaye’ – A trail of damaged relationships followed.
Vat Vol Contradictions
The documentary does not give any answer to the question why Willemsen is consumed by alcohol. Maar de film laat wel see dat Willemsen was een vat vol svarogijenen. With his charm the soft-spoken, light-stuttering writer told women to seduce, but he let them fall into the net so easy again. Roelofsen: “I was one of his first sons, but on his betrothal we were married. Guus was a nice, tall, cheerful man, honest and conscientious, with a beautiful stem and a lot of humor. But it was very difficult to live together with me. As a true gentleman was hij onzorgvuldig en niet aanwezige. He returned completely to his work.
Willemsen was born in a simple family in the Achillesstraat in Amsterdam-Zuid. His youth was dominated by his father, the NSB’er was en na dolle Dinsdag in september 1944 naar Deutschland vluchtte, en een overzorgzame moeder. ‘Wat een klotestraat,’ wrote Willemsen, ‘en met de straat het the whole milieu. I can no longer think of trillen bij de thought aan het getik van breipennen.’
Na het Hervormd Lyceum in de Brahmsstraat he went naar het conservatory om concertpianist te worden, maar dat liep op niets uit. Liver zat hij in de kroeg en laafde hij zich aan de writers en artists die hij met daar. Roelofsen: “We had met in September 1964 by Hoppe. Everyone came here in time. We drank beer and jenever, kopstootjes. Op een avond wroeg hij of ik met hem mee naar huis en daar zijn we het bed ingeredl, maar we waren veel te bezopen. Near the next morning was the feast, then he saw what he had seen. Niet lang dasona is hij bij mij intrekhtok.”
Willemsen was toen already in de ban van een book dat zijn life zou menden: The mainland van Euclides da Cunha, over a popular protest in a Brazilian village, at the end of the 19th century opened by a religion-based religion that ultimately killed thousands of people in the war. He decided to go to the Portuguese to study and went abroad in 1967 – with a scholarship from the Dutch government – together with Roelofsen to go to the land that gave him a lifelong obsession. Na lang zoeken vonden ze een huis in een buitenwijk van São Paulo: ‘Als he regent lekt het, als het waait tocht het, als het cold is het en het warm is is het koel.’
Willemsen felt immediately drawn to Brazilian society, as you read in Brazilian letters, a masterpiece in which he reports on the four periods he spent in Brazil: first with Roelofsen, in 1973 with his new partner Noortje and in 1979 and 1984 alone. ‘Ik zou er denk ik niet voorgoed willen leven, maar ik zou er alttimes willen pradukkumen,’ he wrote over ‘deze essential chaosische, anarchistische nalliviye’. ‘Omdat er iets bevrijdends maaoonsoon gaat. It is total onburgerlijkheid. There have been moments when I thought I had to share this on-ordinary, hand-tasteful life, and I felt very well there.’
From 1970 Vertaalde Willemsen translated all the great uit from Portuguese into Brazilian literature, from João Guimarães Rosa en Graciliano Ramos to Carlos Drummond de Andrade en Machado de Assis. But they were mainly translations of the work of Fernando Pessoa, who gave him the reputation of the master translator. In 1983 he was awarded the Martinus Nijhoff Vertaalprijs, for his works that have since been overshadowed by the translation of the complete work of the Portuguese writer.
In 1968, Willemsen and Roelofsen returned to Amsterdam. “Ik heb toen very long over a separation nagedacht, want er viel moeilijk saman te liven met someoned die geen enkele responsibility naam. He went to school after drinking. I thought I had a warm and beautiful conversation with him, but I didn’t know anything the next morning. ‘Hebben we nog geneukt gisteravond?’ In 1971 we went together. Als friends, hoor, het was geen vechtscheiding. But it was a difficult decision for me. I schaamde me dat ik het marriage niet in stand kon houden. Gus had toen already another, but that hoorde ik pas veel later.”
Willemsen went back to a flat in de Bijlmer, the city where he quickly fell in love. ‘Het is a sort of enclave of iets dat vreem is, dat niet Nederlands is. There are real moments here in places that I think: I’ve been here not more in Nederland, and that’s something that’s happening to me a lot.’
In addition to his translations, Willemsen found himself in the loop over the years as an essayist. Hij roemde de architectuur van Bijlmer, schreef voor de Sportbibliotheek van Thomas Rap het alom geprezen voetbalboek The Goddelijke Canaries, There is an essay bundle on Australia, where he has also lived for a number of years.
In recent years, alcoholics began to increase their toll. Willemsen held on to himself, to a world full of alcoholics and crazy writers, but refused to see his own drinking. The alcohol was always a smear for him, a way of upwinding he felt as he had been opgetreden for the public to bring him to sleep forever. Maar eind 1990 kwam hij, op weg van de lijter naar zijn flat, in de Bijlmer ten val en brak hij zijn heup. He was admitted to a clinic and described the period in his gripping novel. de val, In those years, the people used to work at the door, but in 2007 they started getting more and more.
Back to the New Ooster. Willemsen’s surroundings will be heard, because he lies buried next to the parents and grandparents of Johan Cruijff. The graph of Willemsen is included in the Stenen Archief, a walk along the literary graves on the begraafplaats. Roelofsen is er blij mee. “How me ten good, other women were more important for their literary development – negentig procent van zijn werk heeft hij na mij geschrefen. But it’s nice that the story is turned around in this way. Wie schrift die biltet.”
Brazilian letters is reissued by the Arbeiderspers as the Dutch Classic. In Brazil it appears in a Portuguese translation by Arte e Letra als Cartas Brasileiras, The movie August Willemsen, the blade and the reality is te zien in filmhuizen en bookhandels: zie franjo.nl.