Cover Image: The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen

The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen

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I really enjoyed this book! It reminded me slightly of A Man Called Ove, and I LOVED that book. This novel follows Hendrik, an elderly curmudgeon of a man but is so witty and amusing at the same time. This was a satisfying, heartfelt book.

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This book was one that has stayed with me over the years. I am now just looking back on some of these books and think that this one has to be added to my permanent library.

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Bittersweet look at life in a retirement home in the Netherlands. Politics and the shabby treatment of our elderly are indeed universal. Despite the sad topic of end-of-life decline, this story was one of friendship and of living.

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Considering that the basis of this novel is the observations of an elderly man who resides in an Amsterdam nursing home, I should be a bit guilty for chuckling through most of it. I did this so much that my husband thinks that I have 'lost the plot'.

Hilarity via truisms! In other words? A dramady.

The book, written in the form of a diary, holds acutely astute observations on what it is to be 'old'. Rendered in a direct and simple way, without artifice, the book just works.

Hendrik, at 83 years old, is one of the youngest residents of his nursing home. He definitely has all his wits about him, though he admits to a failing memory, but that could be true of a lot of us. Along with his wits, he has a sometimes scathing, always intelligent sense of humor.

"Of the five senses, my nose still works best. Which is not always a blessing in here. It smells of old people."

To make the days less monotonous, and to make something of what life they have left, Hendrik and a few of his friends set up the 'old-but-not-dead club' aka 'The Rebel Club'. Hendrik's life has been a tragic one, yet, for the most part, he approaches what life he has remaining with good humour. All the more poignant because Hendrik NEVER has any visitors. His only friends live in the nursing home with him.

"Friendship is the essential ingredient for a good life."

Hendrik's friends in the club are all folks that I would like to meet. Especially Eefje Brand, the woman he learns to love. She brings banter and true affection back into his life - at least for a short while...

Even though Hendrik's observations are of a Dutch care home, they are in many ways universal. People are people, wherever they live. Nursing home issues, whether they be as mundane as the daily monotony, as base as the financial cutbacks, or as dismal as the prevalence of depression among the elderly, all resonate with elder folk everywhere.

"The older the people are, the more scared they are. At our age, surely, there's nothing left to lose, so why not be fearless?"

Because Hendrik finds walking more and more difficult, he invests in a mobility scooter. This gives him great pleasure and a sense of freedom he had forgotten.

This is a book that resonates with me personally. I spend a good two afternoons a week visiting my stepfather who is in just such a nursing home. I must confess I wish he were a little more like Hendrik... Sadly, his wits are not always about him...

"Something exciting to look forward to is crucial to keep up one's zest for life."

I enjoyed the descriptions of Amsterdam, and I loved the tales of the excursions enjoyed by "The old but not dead" club.

I can only hope that I can age with as much dignity and panache as Hendrik.

The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 1⁄4 Years Old has been translated into over twenty languages. And... good news folks! There is a sequel to Hendrik's story! "On the bright side" is now available for your reading pleasure.

I received a digital copy of this novel for free - at my request - from Grand Central Publishing via NetGalley. This review is my way of saying thanks for a great read.

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This lovely book was my first NetGalley read and I enjoyed it a lot thanks to a very sympathetic, intelligent, astute protagonist and narrator Hendrik Groen. It is a diary of an elderly gentleman living in a nursing home but it also is a delicate story of emotions accompanying ageing and a story of friendship and creativity. The diary is also a form of therapy for Hendrik who copes better with the inevitable by writing it down on paper. The book is full of gentle humour, poking fun at human tendencies and behaviours. At the same time the novel does not shy away from tackling serious issues of ageing and many problems plaguing such institutions as nursing homes. No doubt that heartless policies and souless administrators contribute to the misery of elderly fellow humans. I also wish, just like Hendrik, to win a lottery and build a home for all my friends for our old age where everybody can be free, safe, elegant, dignified, have fun and be creative to the end. Apart from Hendrik the other characters are subtle sketches drawn with a lot of humour and sympathy (except for a few ones who are definitely nasty), particularly Evert, Grietje, Eefje, and the rest of the rebels from the Old But Not Dead Club.
I hope this book is widely read so all can become better informed about what makes old age enjoyable and what makes it miserable especially in an institutional setting.
I read online that a second diary, “As Long As There Is Life,” has been sold to a Dutch publisher. It’s nice to know that Hendrik is still writing, old but not yet dead.

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Unfortunately, I just couldn't get into this book and I'm sorry to say I was unable to finish. I'm not sure if it was the diary format or that it was not relatable or funny to me.

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“As part of her plan of action to combat the dementia, Grietje has composed, with my help, two new notes she is to carry with her at all times: ‘What to do if I get lost’ and ‘What to do if I don’t remember exactly who someone is.’ Both notes start with: ‘Please forgive me, but I’m a bit forgetful.’
. . .

‘With a little luck, next year I’ll believe in Santa Claus again!’ said Grietje gaily.

‘Yes, just keep going the way you’re going, and you’ll get there soon enough,’ Evert egged her on. She liked the prospect of trustingly leaving her shoe by the hearth again.

‘Santa Claus could leave me an arch-support insole!’

‘Made of marzipan.”

. . .

I must try to be thankful for every happy day, as Grietje is, and I am trying with all my might, but sometimes I’m just not mighty enough.”

Hendrik is a bit of a grouchy old fellow, but it’s not long before he realises that it’s not just his age and infirmity that have affected his mood, it’s the continuous complaints and “organ recitals” at the dinner table (a phrase I only ever heard used by my aunt, who was exasperated by hearing all the gory details about other people’s organs).

Hendrik discovers that pranks are a lot of fun, and his disposing of some unwanted cake in an aquarium stirs up more than a few dead fish. It's a major incident, and the authorities seek to investigate!

The first part of the book seems to be mostly anecdotes and descriptions, which certainly ring true from my experiences with family and friends and community service organisations, but they didn’t interest me. Been there, done that (well, as an outsider, for the time being). But I persisted.

As he got to know more people and make some particularly special friends (who formed the Old But Not Dead Club - a truly inspired idea), he became involved in their lives and so did I. They consume a lot of wine and whisky and enjoy life. He is happily surprised.

“On parting, a kiss on both cheeks. I felt myself get all hot and bothered. Jesus, I’m eighty-three years old!”

He often refers to the residents as “inmates”, and the authoritarian manager, who tries desperately to control things (impossible), is indeed something of a warden, claiming nobody is allowed to see The Rules (those rules they seem to keep bumping up against with their bright ideas).

And some of their ideas ARE bright and inventive. The "Club" gets up to all sorts of things. Hendrik was not a fan of aids and equipment, from incontinence pads to mobility scooters, but as he sees what others are dealing with (and how much fun the scooters are), he does learn to adapt and look forward. After all, if he wants to get out and about . . .

“I really must make a point of asking my geriatrician next time if there’s anything that can be done about the leaky part or if I’ll just have to resign myself to wearing diapers. Not so long ago I used to think that was when one lost one’s last shred of dignity, but I realize that I have now lowered the bar a bit. The frog in the cooking pot, that’s me.”

I had the same mixed feelings about becoming attached to these elderly folks who are fading and falling apart, but their good humour and companionship won me over. They are not all genteel by any means, and some have quite "direct" language, but nothing offensive except to those pernickety old residents who deserved to be offended!

Here’s a link to one of the Dutch mobility vehicles he lusted after.
The Canta mobility vehicle.

And here’s another to how the Dutch have made use of their cycleways which Australia can only envy. Sigh . . .

And a last link – to the Publisher’s page which says that Hendrik Groen is an alias.

Thanks to NetGalley and Grand Central Publishing for the preview copy from which I’ve quoted.

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Thank you for the opportunity to read this book. I enjoyed it very much!

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This book was funny and so very moving. I enjoyed this book, it was like reading about my own grandpa who is also very young at heart. What comes from the elderly is pure love and honesty
Received a free arc for an honest review from Net galley

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I have loved A Man Called Ove, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, and The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared. However, I must admit that Hendrik's voice rings loudly above those beloved tomes. His antics will leave you laughing aloud so I would caution against reading in public places;. Nonetheless, I highly recommend that you pick up this one.

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This is a sweet funny book, really loved some of the little everyday details, like the ongoing incidents with cake. I'm not crazy about the short-diary-entry style, but it does make sense for this kind of story.

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Review published on and aired on Shelf Discovery.

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This is the funniest story I have read in I don't know when! Though not quite yet in the same age group as Hendrik and his friends, I can relate to much of the book. Still, well written. It has it's sad moments. And even will make you shake your head in disgust at how wrongly seniors are treated, but overall, hilariously funny look at old age! A good percentage of us will end up here, might as well have a hearty laugh at the infirmities we have to look forward to (or maybe are beginning to experience.)! Kudos to the author, whoever he ends up being!
This would make a fun gift for someone of a certain age who laughs at the whole aging process. I am getting this book for a few friends and one cousin who will appreciate it! And talking it up to everyone I know!

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I must say I absolutely enjoyed this book. I found myself both laughing and crying and sometimes at the same time. The diary is written over the course of one year and almost each day has a "pearl of wisdom" in the description of the day's events. I feel that this book is a must read!!!

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Hendrik's reflections and musings on his friends and surroundings are both funny and touching. It's refreshing to read a book about old age that is full of joy and humor. Thank you for the opportunity to read the ARC.

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Hendrik Groen is 83 1/4 years old, and he feels like he holds back. He wants to be someone who is able to speak his mind, so he decides to start a diary, hoping that it will help him feel bolder and be truer to himself. He wants his diary to be not only an attempt to be a better Hendrik, but he wants to write an honest expose of a year in the life of a senior living facility in Amsterdam. 

While Henk's diary does talk about the struggles of being older in a society that values youth, and he talks about the challenges of being on a fixed income and dealing with various ailments, that is just the background noise to this story. Because the real story here is the tale of Henk and his friends, the tale of Oldsters Gone Wild. 

Okay, maybe not completely wild, but Henk and his friend Evert definitely have a rebellious streak, and their escapades set the tongues at the home wagging. First, there is the business of someone putting cake into the fish tank. And then these two troublemakers and a group of four other friends form the Old But Not Dead Club and plan excursions for themselves that far outweigh any diversion that the retirement home has come up with. Fancy meals, trips to museums, gambling, sports, picnics, and plenty of wine keeps this group young at heart. 

Fans of The Office, those who love Fredrik Backman's novels, readers of Sue Townsend's Adrian Mole diaries, and anyone who wants to celebrate everything that makes life worth living, no matter your age, will enjoy this book. But be warned: if you're expecting a quiet, mannerly book about old people being well behaved, you will be very disappointed. However, if you want an honest, moving, heart-breaking, hilarious look at real life at 83 1/4 years of age, then Hendrik can tell you a thing or two. And when I say hilarious, I mean it. I don't remember how many times I had to put the book down to finish laughing. It's a tour de force of joie de vivre, and it is a truly lovely book to read and to share with friends and family. 

Galleys for The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen was provided by Grand Central Publishing through, with many thanks.

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"I made the decision to give the world a little taste of the real Hendrik Groen. I hereby declare that in this diary I am going to give the world an uncensored exposé: a year in the life of the inmates of a care home in North Amsterdam." As quoted from The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, a recommended novel, highly for the right reader.

There are some funny lines: "Of the five senses, my nose still works best. Which is not always a blessing in here. It smells of old people." There are some sad, poignant moments, and some very realistic scenes, but much of the book has an optimistic feel, sort of shenanigans among the elderly, even as the people around him struggle with their health and other issues. Along with the retelling of the daily events, there is commentary about care for the elderly.

Henry has his list of complaints and topics he discusses with his doctor, but he is still alive so he has decided to write a dairy exposing all the daily occurrences and happenings at the retirement home where he lives with an assortment of other "inmates." He discusses (quite a bit) his dribbles and move to wearing an adult diaper, the outings of the Old-But-Not-Dead Club, his mobility scooter, his friends amputations due to diabetes, another friends worsening dementia, and the on-going questioning of the director about the policies of the home.

It is written in the diary format, so the plot is the daily events in the care home as seen through Hendrik's musings, thoughts, or stories. Although it is being compared to A Man Called Ove, the comparison didn't hold up for me. It's not necessarily bad, it's just not as well written. While I initially enjoyed it, I soon tired of the format along with the novel. Additionally, serious health problems and facing death can also come to those who are much younger than these residents. (I will concede that perhaps this wasn't a good week for me to read this one. I don't regret reading it, but I was glad when it was over.)

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Grand Central Publishing.

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I enjoyed this so much. The dry wit, the realities of getting older looked at with humor, etc. Wish Hendrick was real and I could be his friend.

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2.75 stars Worthy of a quick skimming style of reading. Cute, and a touching ending, but otherwise, just something that I did a quick read\skimming and skipping along.

I haven't read any of these style of books, with the kitschy titles, like I haven't read "A Man Called Ove" or the "my Grandmother is 97 and robbed a bank, jumped out windows, etc titled stories. I think I am able to continue not reading those ones, since I'm all set now that I've read The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen. It's a cute little story - he writes all the details of life in the nursing home - the ups and downs, the shenanigans, the complaints, the people, the deaths and the loneliness, etc. but I don't think it's the kind of story I need to reach for again with a different title, and/or similar type story. A good one-time style of read for me.

Thank you to Grand Central Publishing for sending the e-arc. I picked it up today from the library and read it over my day outside on the patio.

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What a delightful book. I wish i knew a man like Hendrik Groen. I would sit and talk with him all day. This book is a feel good book. Loved the format and this book made me smile. The cake and fish entry was priceless!!! I could not stop laughing. I enjoyed reading the entries and found myself sad when I was done. I want more of Mr. Hendrik Groen!!!. This is an amazing book. Thanks to NetGalley, the author and the publisher for the ARC of this book in return for my honest review.

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