JORWERD: The Death of the Village in Late Twentieth-Century Europe

Geert Mak, Author , trans. from the Dutch by Ann Kelland. Harvill $17 (288p) ISBN 978-1-86046-803-2

"Real storytelling is a gift; an almost forgotten talent," says Mak, a Netherlands journalist, as he conveys how a farming community used the oral tradition, "the literature of the poor and unseen," to preserve its history. In this study of a small village in the northern Netherlands, Mak describes the demise of this tradition as a part of the vast cultural transformation that has taken place from 1945 to the present. From the 650 people who lived in Jorwerd in 1900, speaking the Frisian rather than the Dutch language, the population has fallen to 330. Farming as a way of life has been dramatically altered by mechanization, and the resulting increased productivity led to quotas set by the government, which restricted, for example, the amount of milk a dairy farmer could produce. This policy had a negative impact on small farming families. The interviews Mak conducted with Jorwerd's residents, for whom he obviously has a great deal of affection, make clear that the centuries-old bond between the farmer and his land has also been eroded. Progress has brought development and newcomers to Jorwerd. This influx of city people who have come to enjoy rural life has also changed the town's social mores, formerly based on traditional family values. Although the author recognizes the oppressiveness inherent in small villages, he mourns the ebbing sense of community that held them together. Mak's study of Jorwerd is a mirror for other countries where farming life is on the wane. (May 21)

Reviewed on: 05/14/2001
Release date: 03/01/2001
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