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On the Bright Side: The New Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 85 Years Old

Review

On the Bright Side: The New Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 85 Years Old

written by Hendrik Groen, translated by Hester Velmans

At 85 years old, Hendrik Groen returns with another diary. This time it is 2016, and he is back to chronicling his life at his care home in North Amsterdam. Frequently referring to himself and his fellow residents as “inmates,” he writes about his relationships and the daily events occurring around him both in the home and in the world at large. Wise and witty, his musings are thought-provoking and relevant to everyone regardless of age, and his delightful and charming personality will win over readers everywhere.

As a founding and involved member of the Old-But-Not-Dead Club, Hendrik joins his cohorts in various activities that help them stay busy, including “restaurants-of-the-world” dinners, establishing a no-complaints zone in the dining room, and adding a monthly high tea to the care home’s schedule. The club’s motto is “Make sure you’re in the red by the time you’re dead!” and they fill their time planning numerous activities to fulfill this goal. The visits to international restaurants are a highlight of the book, and the group’s antics and delight at trying new foods and learning about new cultures are highly entertaining.

"His clever commentary and madcap adventures will leave a long-term impression on everyone who reads his diary. Hendrik Groen is an unforgettable and absolutely spectacular character who readers will wish they could befriend."

While many of Hendrik’s adventures are amusing and delightful, other encounters are weightier and address issues related to growing old, such as wearing diapers, constantly worrying about falling, loneliness and aversion to change. He expertly weaves these concerns into his diary entries amidst lighter fare, and provides an empathetic and realistic portrayal of getting old that should engender more sympathy for the elderly.

Hendrik frequently writes about the social politics of the care home where the antics bring to mind toddler or middle-school drama. At one point, he discusses how unkind some of the residents are and wisely states, “…we are all, in the end, in the same, slowly sinking boat, where harmony and fellowship would make much more sense.” As he wryly and repeatedly observes, the elderly and young children have much in common, including eating habits, rating the panda high on their favorite animals list, and bedtime schedules.

Hendrik’s commentaries on politics, culture and society are often hilarious, sometimes biting and occasionally overdone. He tackles tattoos (too many today), the internet (mind-boggling to his generation), McDonald’s (not what he expected but enjoyable), global warming (an urgent issue), and the refugee crisis (a tough and sad issue). The Netherlands’ treatment of the elderly is clearly a topic close to the author’s heart, and the diary is a bit too focused on it at times. While it is no doubt relevant and important, his heavy-handed and preachy approach may turn off some readers.

In addition to Hendrik’s day-to-day life in the care home, ON THE BRIGHT SIDE highlights memorable occurrences from 2016, such as the Syrian refugee crisis, the Charlie Hebdo mass shooting, the British monarchy’s staff striking, and numerous Dutch issues, including the present-day Dutch monarchy. These current events help readers place Hendrik’s stories in context and tether the tales to the present day.

ON THE BRIGHT SIDE is the diary of an extraordinary man who lives an ordinary life. He makes an impact on almost everyone he meets, and seeks to understand the crazy world in which he resides. His clever commentary and madcap adventures will leave a long-term impression on everyone who reads his diary. Hendrik Groen is an unforgettable and absolutely spectacular character who readers will wish they could befriend.

Reviewed by Cindy Burnett on March 22, 2019

On the Bright Side: The New Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 85 Years Old
written by Hendrik Groen, translated by Hester Velmans

  • Publication Date: January 7, 2020
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
  • ISBN-10: 153874662X
  • ISBN-13: 9781538746622