Reviewed by Daniel Duclos
I was on a trip back to my home country Brazil when I read My Dam Life: Three years in Holland, a book by Sean Condon, an Australian author about whom I had never heard until I tripped over his name on Lonely Planet’s Amsterdam City Guide. I was already living in Amsterdam by the time I got my hands on it, and I was eager to read someone else’s experiences with my new home. And that’s exactly what I got.
I felt a little less of an alien reading about this 35 year-old guy who had started several careers and was now trying to juggle his way through a new life in a foreign country, while writing and dealing with house chores, since he’s the one who works from home while his wife goes out every morning to her 9 to 5 job. I related immediately, because that’s exactly my situation, except I’m 36 now. We even had the same reason for moving – our wives got jobs in Amsterdam, and we just came along.
Maybe you don’t have to be such a close match to find the book fun to read. Maybe you don’t even have to have lived in Amsterdam, or in the Netherlands for that matter, although that certainly would help: you’d laugh harder if you knew firsthand how nosy a Dutch neighbor can be. Or how miserable the weather is for most of the year. Or, indeed, how true any other of those clichés that you read about everywhere (but can only truly understand when you have it laid out under your nose, day after day) can be. They were certainly familiar for me, and sometimes I laughed so hard that I got weird looks from my plane seat mates (my wife among them).
Although funny in some parts, in a sarcastic and sometimes cynic way, the book is not only comedy, and can get quite existential. Moving abroad has a very special way of igniting one to question “what the heck am I doing?”, especially if the reason for the move was to follow another person and not, say, a new job of your own. That, my friends, can be hard to deal with, and, again, I’m speaking from experience here. Of course, the problem is not your life’s partner, but don’t we all need a reason of our own to move to Amsterdam? What’s yours?
Condon doesn’t actually arrive at an answer to that, but instead deals with how the question affects his life, both in a broader sense, as in “what’s the purpose of my life and what am I doing with it”, and in the more practical, everyday aspects of it. Should I fix dinner, since I’m home and my wife is working on her “real job”? And isn’t fixing dinner just another way to procrastinate when you’re your own boss? Add to that some very sharp observations of Dutch culture and life in Amsterdam that expats here know all too well (and love to see mercilessly mocked), and you get the best parts of the book.
However, putting it like that might make you think that “My ‘dam Life” is a better book than it is. The problem with being true to life is that life has boring periods when nothing happens. “My ‘dam Life” does suffer from some rhythm problems, and towards the end it slows down considerably, making it more fun to start to read it than to actually finish it. There are segments where the self questioning can turn into self pity and plain whining. I have enough of that on my own, thank you :). Also, some parts are just not that interesting, and perhaps should have been left out altogether.
But, all in all, I think it is still worth the read, provided that you have an interest in expat/travel literature, and even more so if you know Amsterdam. It’s not as funny as the most famous Dutch expat book, The Undutchables, but it’s more personal (and way less aggressive, by the way). The idea is not to have a cheap laugh at the Dutch’s expense, but to tell a more tangible experience from a cynical and self-deprecating writer’s point of view. I found some comfort reading about the very problems that I was (and still am) dealing with, not because I found answers, but because I had company while living my own ‘dam Life.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to turn this review in and go fix some dinner. Carla will be home any minute 🙂
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