Friday 21 Oct 2016

Piet Soer
JR Hafer

The subject book in review is a translation of J.H Frenken’s book entitled Piet Soer, pronounced “Pete Soor.”  Sjef Frenken, who has taken on a course of love, translating his father’s book which was originally written in his Netherland native tongue, has undertaken a quest of which few have successfully mastered. Sjef Frenken was born in Amsterdam. Perhaps, he had sixty plus years of research invested in this book himself.    

Sjef Frenken is a thinker, poet and composer as well as a translator , who has substantial credentials. A translation must stay within the original context which was originally a collection of journals by J. H. Frenken and his friend and mentor Piet Soer, founder of the Dutch Pilots Association in 1929, then years later made into a book by Dr. J.H. Frenken.

J. H. Frenken was one of the original pilots hired by Dr. Albert Plesman who was the founder of KLM,  the oldest continuous airline in the world founded in 1919.   

To the aviation enthusiasts and history buffs this book is like stepping into a time machine, taking one on a stroll through time and places combined with the excitement of cultural expressions of a travel guide. We see the old Fokker-X11 Havik-Hawk Tri-motor which is a sight to behold for a vintage aircraft enthusiast. We hear through the words on the pages the expressions of people on the ground and the amazement of their flight. We can gaze upon the DC-2 panels and see the primitive gauges and the manual pulleys with cables. With the narration, it’s sometimes just like the reader is in the cockpit flying with Frenken.

Born in 1907, J.H. Frenken was committed to flight and adventure as a pilot for KLM Royal Dutch Airlines until 1948, with the exception of the time during the war in which he flew bombers and fighters and was shot down and spent time in POW camp in Germany. During his flying career with KLM he saw disease and suffering all over the world and experienced adventures around the globe. He left the airlines and became a doctor, studying and practicing medicine in Curacao, Mexico, and Holland. Dr. Frenken retired in Aruba in 1976 and died in Rotterdam in 2001. The original book was published in 1995.

The memoirs of Dr. Frenken in the text would have been easier to read if I were able to read it in Dutch and if I had not had to deal with footnotes. But, sadly, I don’t speak or read that beautiful language myself. However, it is not the translation I have a problem with, it is the flow of the story itself where I get lost and that is perhaps a stumbling block, with the syntax difference and dealing with the footnotes, which interrupts the flow.  

If nothing else, this book was a wonderful personal “around the world” travel and history guide, even a “social studies” and learning experience for anyone who cares to learn, which is absolutely “my cup of tea”. I love this book for the learning factor!

We, the reader, leave Amsterdam and travel to Marseille, Rome, Athens, Cairo, Baghdad, Bangkok, Singapore and on around to many other countries. This book takes us to adventures through countries that today no longer exist and we can see how life was in the pre-World War II era. Along the way, the author introduces us to people and cultures with jovial parties and adventures. Just like Frenken, we will not forget these experiences.

The translation is very well done by Frenken’s son Sjef who is a marvelous writer in his own right and an author whom I respect highly. That being said, I must say taking on a project of translating another’s book is a difficult achievement, especially if it is a close relative. It is inevitable that meanings and emphases will be lost in translation as the story is told due to syntax differences, although the translator might be familiar with the original slang.

As an aviator I enjoyed reading about the various aircraft they flew and the problems they incurred. The weather always provides wild adventures and often makes good reading. The characters the author writes about are memorable and likeable. Some the reader will not like, others are forgettable.

Upon reflection at the end of the book you can read some sadness in Dr. Frenken’s pen as his hand strokes the page; one can almost see him hesitate and gaze off out into space and imagine… as he is allowed to have a look in the mighty cockpit so abundantly outfitted with instruments and amazed and thinks back on the F-XII and FXVII they were so proud of back then. Then remember what Albert Plesman said to them, “You’re a lot better off than your grandfathers!” Then Frenken sighs and continues to write…   

Sjef Frenken did a great job with the translation. There is no doubt the book could have been written better but it was not a novel after all. If the reader could get past the going back to the footnotes for references and hang on to the storyline, the book is a good read.

I do wish I had been right there with him to experience the adventures with J.H. Frenken. All the things and places he wrote about in this book made me wish I could go back in time and live in those days and fly those planes, see those places and meet those people. Therefore, in that respect this book must have done its job!       

There is a lot of world history and various cultures to interest readers. This book is a cornucopia of information. One could open this book at any place and start reading without experiencing “reader’s vertigo”.

Sjef Frenken has done a magnificent job translating is father’s book Piet Soer and Others of the Old East-Indies Line.  

JR Hafer writes from his home in central Florida.

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