What does it mean when people say You can’t compare apples and oranges”? Are comparisons across genres inherently invalid, or can they be insightful and illuminating? In this brilliant and provocative collection of essays, Dutch author Maarten Asscher maintains that comparisons can be the highest form of argument.
Asscher makes his case with examples drawn from classical to contemporary history, art, and literature: Hamlet in Ithaca and Telemachus in Elsinore, the Mediterranean and the North Sea, writing from a prison cell and writing from a room at home, the suicide” of Primo Levi and Japanese Kamikaze pilots, and so on. With graceful erudition and idiosyncratic wit, Asscher demonstrates how the comparative method can provide insight not only into two subjects simultaneously, but also into fundamental issues they may have in common.
Maarten Asscher studied law and Assyriology at Leyden University in the Netherlands. He started his career in literary publishing in 1980 and became the Dutch publisher of writers such as Carlos Fuentes, Primo Levi, Amos Oz, and Wislawa Szymborska. In 2004, after six years as a cultural policy advisor at the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, he became an independent bookseller. He is presently director and co-owner of the Athenaeum Bookshop in Amsterdam. He has written and published poetry, short stories and novellas, a novel and several books of essays, among them an aquatic history of the Netherlands. Most of his books have also appeared in German translation. Asscher has translated poetry by such diverse poets as Paul Valéry, Albrecht Haushofer and Fernando Pessoa. Maarten Asscher lives in Amsterdam with his wife and daughter. He has two adult daughters from a previous marriage.
Brian Doyle-Du Breuil studied Hebrew and the Hebrew Bible in Dublin and the University of Leuven (Belgium) where he presently teaches courses in biblical Hebrew. In addition to his university work, he has translated a variety of genres from Dutch into English over a period of more than twenty years, including several academic monographs, novels, literary nonfiction, and poetry.