With a Dutch Accent by David Cornell DeJong
This book is the author’s attempt to write the story of part of his own life, the time from his earliest memories to the adolescent years which found him in a new country. He writes of the town of Blija in Friesland, where he was born, and of the sturdy parents and grandparents which supposedly all had a hand in bringing him up to hate the Calvinistic heritage of his fathers, because they were narrow minded and too strict. He tells of the wonderful visions he had of a new world, of the anticipation of reaching that land when once his father decided to take his family there, and then of the disappointing and degrading circumstances which attended their settlement in Grand Rapids, Michigan when they began their new life among strangers on a small street near a greenhouse, which anyone who lives in that city will easily recognize. He tells of the years of poverty and hardships, during which he, as a boy of thirteen years had to shoulder too much of the family burden. A trying time for the immigrants, he brings out, because their Holland-American Calvinistic neighbors lent them no helping hand, and the school children of the Christian School which they attended did all they could to make life miserable for the DeJong children. But in spite of all these things at the end of those first years of getting used to his new home, David could write at the close of this book, “I continued my way whistling beneath those trees and that bleak sky, past those American houses on that American street. And then I realized only one thing concretely, unmistakably: I didn’t want to be walking anywhere else. And that realization was strong and positive enough to keep me whistling, but no longer defiantly.”
However, I do not find the keynote of the book in those words. They are, I believe in this statement: “….the more I came to love America and Americans, the more did I come to resent the Grand Rapids American-Dutch, whom ironically enough I accepted as typical Americans for several years until time and experience fortunately opened my eyes, but not quite to the point of forgiveness.” If you have read any other of this author’s books, you will agree with me that his purpose in writing seems to be to paint a bad picture of Calvinism and Calvinists. It is strange, isn’t it, of a man who was brought up in the Christian Grammar schools, high school, and received his higher education first in Calvin College. I could not help asking myself, “Is the author just one of those products of Calvinism that went wrong, or was there perhaps something a bit wrong with the supposedly Calvinistic education he received, which may have set him astray?”
There is something very disgusting about the way the author tries to create antipathy against the Dutch people in America and against Dutch Calvinists in particular, by arousing sympathy for himself as a boy and his poor immigrant family, and one wonders if things were really quite as bad as he makes them. Perhaps time exaggerated some of those childhood impressions, and prejudice helped it along.
The interesting part about the book is the familiarity of all the places and many of the people he mentions, although he uses very few names.