notes on dutch literature

A Pitcher from Arelate – Radio Books

In Masters on November 28, 2012 at 11:31 AM

The series Radio Books is an initiative of Flemish-Dutch Huis de Buren in Brussels, in association with the Flemish radio broadcaster Klara and Radio Netherlands Worldwide. A Pitcher from Arelate by Hella Haasse was translated by Ina Rilke. The story is read by Chris Chambers

Hella Haasse (1918 – 2011) was born in Batavia, the colonial Dutch East Indies. Her father was a government official and her mother a pianist. Her childhood there inspired many of her books, including her 1948 debut novel Oeroeg which has gained the status of a classic in Dutch literature. In 2009, it was selected for the Nederland Leest (Netherlands Reads) project which distributed thousands of copies free of charge through Dutch libraries.
Haasse has received numerous prestigious awards for her work, including the 2004 Dutch Literature Prize.

Haasse’s contribution to Radio Books is in the historical genre. It’s set in Arles in southern France when it was still known as Arelate – the very first Roman town to be built in what was then called Gaul. Arelate had been established by the Roman emperor Julius Caesar after the defeat of his enemy Pompey in 49BC. A shepherdess journeys from the stark scrubland of the Provencal countryside to Arelate in order to find the father of her new-born son.

Dizzy with all the sights she had seen, she rested in the warm breeze. People surged past in a sea of sounds. Many of their languages were unknown to her. She had drunk water at a fountain and eaten a piece of bread from her bag, and now she sat in the shade of the half-open passage beneath the many-columned building, which was crowded at this time of day. On her way there she had crossed a neighbourhood where the air was thick with chalk dust, and where the street noise was drowned out by the pounding of hammers and rasping of saws. She had been intrigued by the goods on display and the pungent smells of unfamiliar brews and bakeries, but had hurried onwards all the same.

Through this simple woman’s eyes one can imagine how awe-inspiring this new Roman town must have been. The narrator imagines the might and ambition of the Roman Empire and how its European colonies were changing beyond recognition.


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