Anyone who spoke to AL Snijders, in person or on the phone, soon discovered that there was hardly any correlation between him and the genre of the ZKV (the Very Short Story) designed by him. Because where Snijders’s written stories excel in economic brevity and are seldom longer than two pages, Snijders himself was a man of long, very long stories. A ‘short reaction’ to the Constantijn Huygens Prize won in 2010 took at least an hour, the interview that took place for this newspaper following the appearance of Bordeaux with ice cream (2008) part of the morning and the entire afternoon; the accompanying photographer noted at a certain point that it was already getting quite dark. As a journalist you hardly had to ask questions, you could give that up. You broached a subject and Snijders set off, turning sideways in no time, dusting off anecdotes, quoting writers, asking what the question was again and then just starting again about something completely different and all the way to the end, such a hours later, ending at the starting point. Postmen could not escape his conversational urge either: the postman who reported on the dirt road to his farm in the Achterhoek that day must have announced his departure at least three times. Earlier, Snijders, who wanted to know whether the man saw something in the ideas of the PVV, did not let go.
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AL Snijders, the pseudonym of Peter Müller (1937), who passed away on Monday morning, was an inexhaustible storyteller, but by extension also someone with an inexhaustible curiosity. Because just think about it: whoever wants to tell something, and certainly if you have to start over with it as often as Snijders, he must have a ton full of stories. He also let that barrel drip for decades before he even started publishing. In the eighties and nineties, when he was still a teacher of Dutch, he did deliver columns for various newspapers and a single novella (By incunabel), but he only invented the ZKV, the genre to which he owes his fame, in 2002, when he was already retired.
Didn’t he think it was a shame that he had found his so-called literary voice so late? Not only did he shrug it off, it suited the underdog feeling so much in his ZKVs. A Snijders hero, if you may say so, is not a winner in the usual sense of the word, not a rich man with a Porsche or a singer with a hit. In his case report about a carpenter who runs off with the girlfriend of a well-known actor and who then argues with the actor by pointing out to the carpenter that no street will be named after him, Snijders has that carpenter superior E. du Perron quoted by: say he has “no fear of the anonymous passage.” After that, the girl is of course completely sure that she has chosen the right man.
So anti-heroes, but then anti-heroes with a head full of wisdom and perspective or hands of gold. Often they are ‘handy dreamers’, as one of the ZKV bundles is called, men – but just as much women (such as one who built her own ship) – who all lead a life that is somewhat the norm and the Vinex neighborhoods. In real life, such as the frequent recording of the adventures of the self-taught aircraft builder (“you put down a chair and build a plane around it”) and Africa pilot Joost Conijn, or more ‘in the spirit’, such as the headstrong and adored poet Frank Koenegracht.
This, in addition to the stylistic superiority and the Taoist angle, is also part of the strength of a zkv: a revival of the reader’s hope that something like a sovereign life, as far as possible, is possible; that life does not come down to simply living up to questionable values and fashionable standards.
The difference between Snijders and the average punk band in that respect lies, strikingly enough for such a cheerful cross-thinker, in the civilized but also upward movement: Snijders never grumbles, is never just critical; there is no Zkv that makes you gloomy. Take ‘Pleasure’, one of his best-known ZKVs, which describes a hare in a meadow that suddenly starts to run in a straight line “without danger, a dog at the edge of the forest or a buzzard in the air”. He, Snijders writes, ‘had fun doing it, he did it for fun, I was sure of that’. The pleasure of the hare is contagious, but Snijders’ assertion is equally a long finger at the people who cherish a holy belief in the so-called law of the world. If you could run as fast as a hare you would, and not just out of necessity.
Twelve Zkv bundles appeared between 2006 and April, received a few weeks ago Tat Tvam Asi five more balls of this paper. According to Paul Abels, who founded AFdH publishers especially for the publication of Snijders’s ZKVs, the counter now stands at more than 3,000 ZKVs, which appeared in all kinds of media. For example, there was the weekly piece on Radio 4 (“Good morning, Niels”), but he also delivered to the modest Achterhoek regional newspaper Berkel messenger. On Monday, halfway through an ZKV for that newspaper, he suddenly collapsed: the heart. He will be missed by countless gourmet readers.
A version of this article also appeared in NRC Handelsblad of 8 June 2021
A version of this article also appeared in NRC in the morning of June 8, 2021