A Foolish Virgin (Een dwaze maagd)
Ida Simons, 2014
208 pages, 45.000 words
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Brochure from the Dutch Foundation for Literature
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A Foolish Virgin | Een dwaze maagd
Ida Simons

The Dutch classic, A Foolish Virgin is a story about a young girl, Gittel, growing up in the jewish community of Antwerp in the late twenties and early thirties. Her parents lead a cat-and-dog life. Her father ‘was a sjlemiel and he knew it’, and doesn’t succeed in business.

Every time her mother has had enough, she leaves for Antwerp with her daughter to stay with family for a few weeks. Gittel is able to surrender completely to her passion for the piano since nobody is really paying any attention to her in the colourful family, which is much more of a home for her mother than her husband.

At the house of a befriended family of bankers, Gittel is allowed to rehearse on the Steinway and learns her first lessons in life. Her infinite trust in her older friend Lucie is violated. Simons describes the vulnerable relationship between two girls in the middle of the lively Jewish community in Antwerp in an unparalleled manner. In Berlin, where Gittel’s father tries to obtain a fortune in a trice, the initial illusion of wealth after the Wall Street Crash of 1929 is soon over. Who, wonders Gittel, can be trusted in this world of impostors?

Ida Simons has a light, often humoristic way of telling the story of the naïve Gittel. She empathizes with a girl looking for a safe place in an uncertain time and a chaotic world.

Praise for A Foolish Virgin:

Comparisons to Jane Austen, John Williams’ Stoner, Anne Frank, John Cheever, Franz Kafka and Willem Elsschot

‘Such a wonderful novel! A pinnacle in Dutch literature. Don’t hesitate, buy it immediately.’ – Maarten ‘t Hart

‘Dutch pianist Ido Rosenheimer survived concentration camp Theresienstadt and wrote the brilliant novel A Foolish Virgin as Ida Simons. Wrongly forgotten over time, now rediscovered. A sophisticated style you wouldn’t expect from a debut. A magnificent novel.’ – de Volkskrant *****

‘An extraordinary novel. Musical prose. Ida Simons shows she is a self-conscious writer in this sensitive yet unsentimental novel. It is incomprehensible that this book hasn’t been read for many years. There’s no need to read another novel for the time being.’ – NRC Handelsblad *****

‘Found: the Dutch Stoner. A debut between Franz Kafka and John Cheever. A must-read book.’ – De Standaard *****

‘Cossee Publishers scores with a subtle and humoristic version of the story of the life of Ida Simons. It’s not hard to see why the critics (in the 1960’s and now) loved this novel. The story about the young girl Gittel and her Jewish surroundings are portrayed by Ida Simons with humor and an ironic distance. A Foolish Virgin is inhabited by a motley collection of Jewish characters. Publisher Eva Cossée found this book in her parent’s bookcase, perhaps there’s more to be found there?’ – 8weekly.nl *****

‘The Jane Austen of 1920’s Antwerp. The success of Ida Simons is mainly due to the quality of the novel. A Foolish Virgin is still charming after half a century since it was written. The language is fresh, humoristic and sober.’ – Trouw

‘This is the Dutch equivalent of Stoner. The novel is remarkably timeless. The language is light and simple, sometimes even poetic and Ida Simons is especially strong in her understatement, which yields a friendly and sometimes biting humor. The novel reminds me of 18th Century British literature.’ – De Morgen

‘After the excitement of E.L. James has died down and everybody has read Stoner we are waiting for a new bestseller. 2014 is the year of A Foolish Virgin. This rediscovered novel from 1959 from the Dutch-Flemish Ida Simons is this summer’s Stoner. Beautiful and recognizable.’ – Algemeen Dagblad

‘Ida Simons writes lightly, fluently and nonchalant with a hidden meaning that slowly dawns on you. I think I’ll just read the book for a second time.’ – Den Haag Centraal

‘Nothing by positive reviews when it was published in 1959 and rightfully so.’ – Noordhollands Dagblad

‘A Foolish Virgin deserves a great audience.’ – Christelijk Weekblad

‘Gittel reminds us of Anne Frank.’ – Nederlands Dagblad

‘I reshuffled the planning of the reviews. I thought: this has to be in our newspaper as soon, big and enthusiastic as possible. This truly is something that everyone should read as soon as possible.’ – NRC Handelsblad

‘Sometimes a rediscovered novel is a true eye-opener. From the very start of the novel you know that you’re reading a very good book.’ – Wim Brands

‘A Foolish Virgin is written with amazing skill, in a sober, ironical style, full of mockery and humor.’ – Kees Fens

‘This book has a special history in more ways than one. A very good book and rightfully hailed by all.’ – Tros Nieuwsshow

‘This could be Cossee Publishers’ Stoner, a bestseller out of left field. The first fifty pages were astounding: is this a debut?’ – Boekblad.nl

‘Simons talent is immediately evident, even though she isn’t flaunting it. A Foolish Virgin is grandiose with its modest ambitions.’ – Cobra.be ****

‘This rediscovered is well deserved. A Foolish Virgin is a great find. So read!’ – Boekenbijlage.nl

‘Simons has a lightly ironic tone and she wonderfully writes about the naivety and doubt of a twelve-year old girl from the 1920’s.’ – Tzum.info

‘Ida Simons’ humor is contagious and increases the reading pleasure of this book.’ – Post Scriptum Bookshop


Bence (Turkey)
Aptal Bakire

1920'lerin Antwerp Jane Austen'ı. Ida Simons'un başarısı, romanın kalitesinde gizli. Aptal Bakire, yazımının üzerinden yarım asır geçmesine rağmen halen büyülüyor. Dili ferahlatıcı, mizah yüklü ve ağırbaşlı.

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Gummerus (Finland)
Tyhmä neitsyt

Ida Simonsin unohdettu mestariteos Tyhmä neitsyt pääsi viimein suuren yleisön tietoisuuteen, kun hollantilainen kustantaja löysi kirjan äitinsä kirjahyllystä ja päätti julkaista sen uusintapainoksena. Kirjasta tuli sensaatiomainen menestys. Sitä on kutsuttu ”Alankomaiden Stoneriksi” ja kirjailijaa ”Antwerpenin Jane Austeniksi”. 1920–30-luvun juutalaisyhteisöihin sijoittuvaa naiivin mutta tarkkanäköisen nuoren tytön kasvukertomusta luetaan pian yli 20 kielellä.

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Natur & Kultur (Sweden)
Timmen före midnatt

Gittel växer upp i en judisk familj i Antwerpen på tjugotalet. Hennes pappa är en sjlemiel, en skojare som ständigt misslyckas i affärer, vilket får mamman att med jämna mellanrum flytta över till grannfamiljen. Där finns en Steinwayflygel. Att spela piano är Gittels passion, men när hon får sin första riktiga vän i den äldre Lucie förändras allt. Med lätt hand och varm blick levandegör Simons sin barndoms miljöer, skildrade ur den begåvade, men ännu naiva, Gittels perspektiv. Timmen före midnatt utgavs för första gången 1960. 2014 återupptäcktes romanen av en nederländsk förläggare och översätts nu till ett femtontal språk.

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Pax Forlag (Norway)
Timen før midnatt

Gittel vokser opp i mellomkrigstidens Nederland med foreldre som slåss som hund og katt. Hver gang moren har fått nok, tar hun med seg datteren hjem til familien i Antwerpen. Der blir Gittel mye overlatt til seg selv på dagene, og kan hengi seg helt til pianospillet. Hun får lov til å låne Steinway-flygelet til den rike Mardellfamilien, og blir nære venner med datteren i familien, den sytten år eldre Lucie. Gittel beundrer Lucie nesegrus. Men hun oppdager etter hvert at de voksnes verden er mer innfløkt enn hun forstår, og at hun risikerer å vikles inn i et nett av hemmeligheter og bedrag.

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Pistorius & Olsanska (Czech Republic)
Pošetilá družička

Román Pošetilá družička, jehož děj se odehrává ve 20. letech minulého století v antverpské židovské komunitě, vyšel již v roce 1959. Jeho znovuobjevení v roce 2014 se však v Nizozemsku stalo literární senzací prvého řádu, během pěti měsíců vyšel v pěti vydáních a v současné době se připravují jeho překlady v další dvacítce zemí. „Je mnohem užitečnější vydolovat z méně příjemného zážitku humorný prvek, než se v něm snažit vystopovat nepřítomnou světlou stránku,“ dostalo se poučení hlavní hrdince tohoto příběhu, dvanáctileté židovské dívce Gittel.

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Rizzoli (Italy)
Una vergine sciocca

“Peccare con premeditazione non era facile.” Negli anni Venti la catastrofe è ancora invisibile nei salotti e per le strade di Anversa. Qui la comunità ebraica è un piccolo universo pulsante nel quale Gittel si muove con la grazia e la risolutezza di una dodicenne curiosa. Intorno a lei si allarga e ruota un esuberante cosmo di umanità varia: zii e zie più o meno pirotecnici, una madre collerica amante dei vestiti alla marinara, un padre che è da sempre “uno shlemiel, uno sventurato, e lo sapeva”, nonne rissose pronte a firmare improvvisi armistizi, mendicanti di mestiere depositari di spiritose storielle, un ricco banchiere che le apre la propria casa e un mondo nuovo, una baronessa pacchiana, agghindata con piume di struzzo, che tuttavia “Rubens probabilmente avrebbe dipinto volentieri”.

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Other titles by Ida Simons:
> A Foolish Virgin
In Memoriam Mizzi
Like Water in the Desert
Rights sold to:
- Armenia (Antares)
- Brazil (Alfaguara)
- Catalan (Empuries)
- Czech Republic (Pistorius & Olanská)
- Denmark (Klim)
- Finland (Gummerus)
- France (Belfond)
- Germany (Luchterhand)
- Iceland (Bjartur)
- Israel (Yedioth Books)
- Italy (Rizzoli)
- Norway (Pax)
- Rumania (Polirom)
- Spain (Alfaguara)
- Sweden (Natur & Kultur)
- Turkey (Bence Kitap)
- World English (MacLehose Press)
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