The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 ¼ Years Old by Hendrik Groen


“Another year, and I still don’t like old people. Their walker shuffle, their unreasonable impatience, their endless complaints, their tea and cookies, their bellyaching. Me? I am eighty-three years old.”

— Hendrik Groen, The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 ¼ Years Old

    There’s nothing like jolting down your daily activities and thoughts on a piece paper and be able to look back on these logs to reflect on life. Journalistic entries can also serve as a great method to create structure and routine into ones life. Through them, as personal as they can be, you can learn a lot about a person’s way of life, about the people around them and about the time period they’re in. After all, values, beliefs and practices change over time. But what’s truly beautiful is that once you get used to writing a diary, it sort of becomes an instinct that’s hard to detach yourself from as the pros overshadow the cons. And so, Hendrik Groen explores the world of diaries by writing one of his own as an octogenarian. This book is his uncensored exposé in which he offers us « a year in the life of the inmates of a care home in North Amsterdam ». Embodying cynicism, Hendrik Groen gives us a humour-filled look at his surroundings, the people he meets and his precious rebellious thoughts as a man who sees it all.

    The book is filled with entries from January 1st 2013 till the next year. There are a couple days that are skipped, other days that have entries longer than a page and some days were entries are not longer than a little paragraph. There’s no real coherence or linearity to this book, as it should be expected from a diary after all. Life is filled with unexpected events and your willpower varies from one day to the other. Even your emotions come dictate the way you live in the moment. Through Hendrik Groen you quickly recognize the ramblings, but also his desire to make his life worthwhile even at his age. While routine is dominant and our protagonist knows this, it is destroying that very curse that drives Hendrik Groen. Although life will continuously throw curve balls at you, it is the form that they take and how you deal with them that Hendrik Groen subtlety highlights. However, while you’d imagine that the life of elders in a retirement home would be pretty dull and empty of life, this book quickly retorts with some of the most unexpected array of events.

    Whether they’re hilarious moments or absolutely saddening accidents, The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen is far from being lifeless. For someone who enjoys studying individuals and their interactions within groups, I thought this book was a fantastic look into an environment that had its fair share of issues. Through the eyes of the curmudgeon Hendrik Groen, the social interactions as well as the norms and rules that wraps up the retirement home were absolutely intriguing. I definitely enjoyed our protagonists comparison of the environment to a prison and how they’d compare themselves to other retirement homes. It was like reading an in-depth analysis of everything right and wrong about the structure and not being able to do anything about it. This book honestly felt like a direct and immersed observation of the lives of elders left to find their way as life slowly leaks out of them. In fact, Hendrik Groen serves us with a very human experience of people who are generally seen as a hassle to deal with as everyone else is busy dealing with their teenage or adult lives.


    Personally, it is pretty hard for a book to genuinely make me laugh out loud or even make me exude emotions for strangers to stare at. When they do, they generally out to be instant favourites of mine. Unfortunately, The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen didn’t have me rolling on the floor laughing at the humour that it had. However, I can assure you that it isn’t the humour that’s at fault. In fact, there are some pretty solid moments that were quite funny, but what truly caught my attention is all the introspection and thoughts that Hendrik Groen shared with us through this diary on the life of elders. Throughout this book you’ll find yourself in front of a lot of unfortunate deaths and you’ll often see the struggle that old age will have on your willpower or even just your physical strength. Hendrik Groen also has a couple of entries where him and his fellow “inmates” discuss about dementia or alzheimer. There’s nothing more sad than to know the inevitable and be without recourse. This is one diary that hides loads of wisdom to keep in mind as you get older. There’s a lot that simply isn’t within your grasp as you get older and this book shows you why through its humour, but also through its truth.


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7 thoughts on “The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 ¼ Years Old by Hendrik Groen

  1. Nikola (Breathing Through Pages) says:

    The ‘inmates’ thing is so funny! They do feel like inmates in the retirement home 😀 Great review as always. I like how it gives us a introspective look at the life of an old person and the struggles that come with being one. I tried googling Hendrik Groen and it appears that he’s nowhere to be found


  2. Inge | The Belgian Reviewer says:

    Coincidentally, I have an opportunity to read this novel (in Dutch) but I wasn’t planning on really picking it up. I don’t know but reading a book about old people and reading what’s waiting for me isn’t very alluring. The comparison to a prison doesn’t make me look forward to my future in a retirement home :-). Maybe I should read it though and see for myself that it’s not all bad, if not for all the wisdom someone of 84 years undoubtedly has and is well worth hearing ;-).


  3. LizScanlon says:

    I have been wanting to read this book… and I will, for sure.. I’m exactly the kind of person to read this and be completely put at easy re old age or get totally depressed about it, but I will defo get myself a copy 🙂
    This is a great review- I am hoping the humor does it for me a bit better than for you… it is what it is, sense of humor is something that books tickle or not 🙂

    ha, at the mention of inmates, the only thought rolling in my head was that in certain countries it is actually better if you end up in prison than a retirement home due to the neglect that goes on in some homes, and poor care due to poor funding… prisons don’t seem to be having that issue… but… not painting them all with the same brush of course…


  4. Beth (Reading Every Night) says:

    Great review for this book Lashaan. I love the quote you included at the beginning of this review and when I read it I thought this would be a book that had you rolling on the floor laughing, and while it didn’t it seems like there was still something more that kept you interested in Hendrik Groen’s story. This does sound like an interesting book, not really my thing though. I’ve never read any diary style books before and don’t know if I could deal with the journalistic style or writing over a story with a beginning middle and end in order but I’m glad you enjoyed this book. 🙂


  5. Books, Vertigo and Tea says:

    You review is so thoughtful! I had to chuckle at the opening quote (as I shuffle around the home with my own walker for the past two weeks 😉 ). I spent a lot of time with the geriatric population during my nursing years and feel that this might be an ideal and provoking read for myself. On the other hand, I also feel I will need to wait for the perfect moment to pick it up or I might fail to connect 😉 The afflictions of being a mood reader eh?


  6. Karina Pinella says:

    Besides health, a sense of humor is an important asset during all stages of life. The closer we get to the grave, the deeper our laughter should be, so being six feet under won’t feel as deep, eh? Is that Canadian enough for you . . . eh?


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