In Ajax, the Dutch, the War, Simon Kuper, broadsheet journalist and author of the bestselling Football Against the Enemy, turns his attention to the Dutch club Ajax of Amsterdam, and the hidden history of the Nazi occupation of Holland in WW2.
At one level the book can be seen as an investigation into the mystery of how and why Ajax, like one or two other of Europe's major club sides, are considered to be a Jewish team--their supporters, of no discernable faith, still wave an Israel flag at matches; in return some rival fans revel in anti-Semitic language and gestures. Kuper tries to locate the roots of this alignment through interviews with the ever-decreasing number of living witnesses, players, club officials and supporters, who experienced the period from the early 1930s to the end of the Second World War in 1945--a time in which the soul of Amsterdam, "the city of Jews and bicycles", was indelibly stained by the horrors of occupation, ghettoisation and the Holocaust.
What he finds is the story of a city, its people and its football team, that challenges the semi-truths and misconceptions about civilian lives in wartime that most of us hold--including how and why the mass obsession with football thrived in the unlikeliest circumstances. It's a personal history too. Kuper's parents, Jews from South Africa, moved to the Netherlands more than 30 years after the war had ended, but were confronted by its legacy at every turn.
By weaving himself, his family and the contemporary voices of ordinary people into what is essentially a book on a facet of 20th Century Northern European history, Kuper pulls off the remarkable feat of creating a readable, entertaining work out of potentially difficult material. Free of the occasionally pompous, cod-academic tone that soured parts of Football Against the Enemy, the book breathes a little more easily, is more involving, funnier, and more moving than its predecessor--and as such, is warmly recommended. --Alex Hankin [via]