Mon 20 March 2017

citybooks | The tour of hometown authors

A few times a year, the Flemish-Dutch House deBuren (“the neighbours”) sends a group of writers and a photographer to a city and gives them two weeks to look around and think. We put the stories and pictures they bring back with them on the citybooks website, which is now starting to bear a strong resemblance to a small city itself. For his internship at deBuren, Max Urai wrote a travel guide about that virtual city.

travel guide citybooks banner

In each city visited by citybooks, a number of local authors are also asked to write about their hometown. In this tour, we’ll read four of those stories.

Annelies Verbeke on living in Ghent

We start in Ghent, the city where Annelies Verbeke stayed on after her studies, and where she’s lived her whole adult life. Home Town is a gently murmuring story, like many in this tour, but what I find so interesting about this one is that it’s also a coming of age story.

‘Friends, especially Brussels friends, annoy the author when they speak arrogantly about Ghent: too Flemish, too respectable, too clean, too small, too politically correct. The author finds it puerile to rate a city more highly based on dirt and danger. A hundred and sixty nationalities live in Ghent and its residents do not vote Flemish Nationalist. Someone from Brussels recently asked whether Ghent actually had any independent bookshops. The author still gets wound up about that question. She’s impoverished herself buying books in Ghent bookshops. Her own books were baptised there.’

Read & listen to Home Town


Andrea Stift does not live in Graz

We’ll continue our tour with I do not live here by Andrea Stift. For twenty years Stift has been living in Graz, the second city of Austria, and for twenty years it’s been her intention to move to another city. For her citybook I do not live here, she went to places in the city which she hadn’t visited before, hoping to finally gain some affection for her hometown:

‘The Strassgang cemetery, the Strassgang swimming pool. The lock and key museum in Wienerstrasse. The Wiki-Akademie, which also runs courses in first aid. Places I have never been to. The men’s loo at the Literaturhaus. No, that’s not true, I have been there once and whom did I meet there? My uncle! (Not as long and confusing a story as it might sound).’

Read & listen to I do not live here

© Athos Burez (citybook Hasselt-Genk)


Street memories

The third story in our tour is the Knausgård-ish story The Street by José Maria Vieira Mendes. He tells us about his youth in Lisbon, or rather about the street where he used to live, because his early memories don’t reach beyond its borders. It’s a curious story: intensely personal as well as a little distant, as if he’s turning his own memories into history.

‘The construction continues. Roads disappear, hefty overpasses are erected. Private hospitals are born and pavements are tarmacked over. I feel older with each new construction. I’ve felt the weight of age since adolescence. (I was premature in this, and this alone.) Because physically eliminating part of the landscape makes it become a memory. And hence connects me to a particular time. I become a contemporary of those who lived in the shacks. Of those who can remember them. Those who came afterwards know nothing of the shacks. They’re younger. And I’m older than each newcomer, each new landscape. A building is born and my past grows.’

Read & listen to The Street


‘A Migrant in Turnhout’

Our tour ends with the uplifting story A Migrant in Turnhout, written by Walter van den Broeck, who has been living in the city since 1967. Despite all his prestigious literary awards, still no one recognizes him in the streets, and he now decides to put his mark on the city:

‘I bought a self-inking office stamp made by COLOP Printer. With that I was going to leave my mark in the three hundred and sixty-nine streets of Turnhout. I had thought that it wouldn’t take me long, but I was wrong. For a whole year I walked around with that thing in my pocket. Stamping turned out, however, to be a lot more problematic than I had expected. My name had to be clearly legible, so the first thing was to find smooth surfaces. Bricks of rough bluestone were not suitable. A lot of the stamp-worthy surfaces turned out to be much too high so that a pair of steps would be needed.’

Read & listen to A Migrant in Turnhout


With this we have come to the end of this tour. Thank you for reading and don’t forget the guide.


Also read

- The slums tour
- The experimental tour
- Recommendations from the neighbours



Translated from Dutch by Annelies Dotselaere, who did an internship at deBuren as part of her Master in Translation at the KU Leuven Campus Brussels.


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