I just finished “Hoe God Verdween uit Jorwerd” (“How God Left Jorwerd”) by Geert Mak. The book is an autobiography (1945-1995) about Jorwerd – a small, rural Dutch village. The village is representative for much of rural north and east of the Netherlands over the last decades. (The west of the Netherlands, which includes the provinces of Holland, had already undergone modernization for centuries).
As with a previous book by Mak (blogpost here) I was struck by how a large part of the Netherlands only a few decades ago is so similar to the Congo now. Mak discusses how just a few decades ago Dutch farmers did not specialize. Families would make their own bread, milk, butter, potatoes, and even furniture. Only soap, sugar and coffee and those type of products would come from outside the family. At public gatherings there would be a separation of men and women at public gatherings – something that we look at strange now when we see it happening in the Congo. A large part of the Dutch population just a few decades ago lived of the land and often on the edge of survival. I notice that we (including me) quickly judge Congo as backward – thinking that we, people from the West, lived like that in the medieval period. But take the fighting and minerals away and there are many things really not too different between the Congo now and a large part of the Netherlands just a few decades back.
The most interesting part of the book, though, is Mak’s discussion of why and how things changed in Jorwerd from 1945-1995. In a fantastic way, Mak discusses the influences that modernization had on the village. How this led to urban-rural tensions (an important topic in the developing world literature) and how things changed from a production to a consumption society. Most interesting is how Mak discusses how over time there was a decrease of "community". The emphasize went from qualitative to quantitative. There was a move away from the community and towards the individual, and towards numbers. For example, he discusses in much detail the importance and role of mechanization for the farmer. Farms, for example. were no longer a place were many people would work together. Mak discusses how in order for the farmers to stay competitive they had to scale up, mechanize and decrease labor costs.
A very impressive read.