notes on dutch literature

Archive for the ‘Masters’ Category

While the Gods Were Sleeping shortlisted for Independent Foreign Fiction Prize

In Awards, Masters on April 11, 2015 at 5:39 PM


The Independent Foreign Fiction Prize was inaugurated by British newspaper The Independent to honour contemporary fiction in translation in the United Kingdom. This year eminent Dutch-language Belgian author Erwin Mortier’s While the Gods Were Sleeping is one of the contenders, joined by literary giant Haruki Murakami, German authors Jenny Erpenbeck and Daniel Kehlmann, Juan Tomás Ávila Laurel from Equatorial Guinea and Colombian Tomás González. The winner will be presented with the prize at the Royal Institute of British Architects on 27 May.

Helena’s mother always said she was a born poetess. It was not a compliment. Now an old woman, Helena looks back on her life and tries to capture the past, filling notebook after notebook with memories of her respectable, rigid upbringing, her unyielding mother, her loyal father, her golden-haired brother. She remembers how, at their uncle’s country house in the summer of 1914, their stately bourgeois life of good manners, white linen and afternoon tea collapsed into ruins. And how, with war, came a kind of liberation amidst the mud and rubble and the appearance of a young English photographer who transformed her existence.

Lyrical and tender, filled with images of blazing intensity, While the Gods Were Sleeping asks how it is possible to record the dislocation of war; to describe the indescribable. It is a breathtaking novel about the act of remembering, how the past seeps into our lives and how those we have lost leave their trace in the present.

While the Gods Were Sleeping was translated by acclaimed translator Paul Vincent and published by Pushkin Press.

Erwin Mortier made his mark in 1999 with his debut novel Marcel, which was awarded several prizes in Belgium and the Netherlands, and received acclaim throughout Europe. While the Gods were Sleeping received the AKO Literature Prize, one of the most prestigious awards in the Netherlands.

Paul Vincent taught Dutch at the University of London for over twenty years before becoming a full-time translator. He has translated a wide variety of literature from Dutch, including Louis Couperus’s Inevitable and the Hidden Force as well as J.J. Slauerhoff’s The Forbidden Kingdom for Pushkin Press. In 2012 he was awarded the Vondel Translation Prize.


Classic novel De Avonden translated by Pushkin Press

In Masters on February 12, 2015 at 9:23 AM


Gerard Reve’s classic novel De Avonden (The Evenings) is to be translated into English for the first time, almost 70 years after it was first published. Reve is considered one of the great figures of post-war Dutch literature.

De Avonden was Reve’s debut novel, first published in 1947 when he was 24. The book revolves around Frits van Egters, who is 23 and has a boring office job. The 10 chapters depict in painstaking detail the last 10 days of the year Frits spends with his family, office colleagues and friends.

Provocative and witty, The Evenings could be described as a Dutch equivalent to Camus’s The Outsider, but the protagonist’s heartfelt yearning for meaning and the novel’s uncanny, twilit atmosphere make it like nothing else I’ve ever read. I absolutely love this book, which is consistently voted as one of the best Dutch novels of all time, and we’re thrilled to be adding it to the Pushkin list. Daniel Seton, Commissioning Editor.

The Evenings is being published in Britain by Pushkin Press and translated by prize-winning Sam Garrett, who has previously translated work by Herman Koch, Arnon Grunberg and Geert Mak.

In Byron’s Footsteps

In Masters on February 11, 2013 at 10:03 AM

lord byron
When Tessa de Loo saw Albania for the first time, no foreigners were allowed to enter. Filled with a great curiosity, longing, and a sense of wonderment by this isolated land, de Loo gazed toward the mountains that stood like ‘the backs of patiently waiting elephants’ across the water from Corfu. Inspired by the famous Thomas Phillips portrait of Lord Byron in Albanian national costume, de Loo stole her way in and found a country suffering the hardships of post-communist reality and the constant and sometimes fractious clash between tradition and modernity. In the tradition of Bruce Chatwin, de Loo, the award-winning author of The Twins, has written a fascinating travelogue and a very personal reassessment of the life and works of Lord Byron: In Byron’s Footsteps, translated by Andy Brown.

Praise for the Dutch Edition of In Byron’s Footsteps
‘[One notes] the seriousness and humour with which De Loo laces her contribution to superior travel literature… She gives her report in the form of letters to Byron (My dear friend, My dearest George) alternated with chapters where she recounts Byron’s journey. However euphoric De Loo’s report is not too affected, it stays lively and informative…. is a book of contrasts, surprises and disappointments, written cheerfully and with eye for details.’ – Vrij Nederland

A translator’s note from Andy Brown:
‘Translating In Byron’s Footsteps was a true labour of love. Like Tessa de Loo, I became acquainted with Byron as a teenager at school. I lost sight of him over the years, but travelling with him to Albania, I rediscovered him and saw his rebelliousness and humour in a different light.

Byron was not always loved in his home country, and the feeling was mutual. Before he left on the journey that would eventually lead him to Albania, he had ordered his business agent to sell his family estate, saying: ‘[…] allow me to depart from this cursed country, and I promise to turn Mussulman, rather than return to it.’ Tessa de Loo went to Albania to find Byron. Perhaps by translating her wonderful account of their journey together, I have helped her to bring him home.’

Tessa de Loo’s novel The Twinshas been translated into 25 languages. She is the author of The Book of Doubt, which is longlisted for the 2013 IMPAC. The Book of Doubt will be available in the US March 2013.
Tessa de Loo lives in south Portugal and Paris and is one of the most successful writers in the Dutch language.

What Kwaku Knows – Radio Book

In Masters, Pick of the Week on December 19, 2012 at 9:00 AM

Arthur Japin
Dutch writer Arthur Japin was born in Haarlem in 1956. He studied Dutch Language and Literature at the University of Amsterdam and drama at The Webber-Douglas Academy of Dramatic Arts in London and the Amsterdam Theatre School. He acted on stage, screen and television for many years.

The publication of his debut novel The Two Hearts of Kwasi Boachi in 1997 established Arthur Japin’s name as a writer. It is the tragic story of two Ashanti princes Kwasi and Kwame, who were offered as a gift to King William I in 1837. In a beautiful, polished style Japin blended fiction and historic fact into a striking whole. The book sold over 150,000 copies in the Netherlands and won multible awards. It’s been translated into numerous languages, including English, and adapted for stage, screen and opera.

In 2003 Japin published another historical novel In Lucia’s Eyes, which won him the Libris Literature Prize. Inspired by an episode related in the memoirs of Casanova, the story is set in Amsterdam in 1758. An English translation by David Colmer received critical acclaim in the United States.

His most recent novel Director’s Cut sets in Rome and features Italian film director Federico Fellini, with whom Japin found himself caught up in an unlikely love triangle.

His Radio Books story What Kwaku Knows is set in Ghana where young boys dream of being discovered by football scouts and Kwaku is no exception.

“All the boys in Kwaku’s class want to be footballers. So does he. Even more so now. Three months ago, an uburuni was standing at the field behind the school, watching them play. They had done their best. After the game, the man had beckoned to Michael, Kwaku’s best friend. He had visited his parents that evening. He gave them fifty dollars and some pocket money for Michael. He guaranteed that he would turn the boy into a professional footballer…”

What Kwaku Knows by Arthur Japin was translated by Michael O’Loughlin. The story is read by David Swatling.

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.

A Posthumous Confession

In Masters on November 25, 2012 at 2:10 PM

Marcellus Emants

Marcellus Emants (1848–1923) was a Dutch poet, novelist, and playwriter. After coming into a substantial inheritance at the age of twenty-three following the death of his father, he threw over his law studies and dedicated his life to travel and literature. Emants had little contact with his contemporaries, and published his first poems and plays in two literary magazines he co-founded while still at the University of Leiden. He also founded a theater company, where many of his plays—productions that he directed and acted in as well—were performed.

Termeer, the narrator of A Posthumous Confession, is a twisted man and a troubled one. The emotionally stunted son of a cold, forbidding, and hypocritical father, Termeer has only succeeded in living up to his parents’ low expectations when, to his own and others’ astonishment, he finds himself wooing a beautiful and gifted woman—a woman whose love he wins. But instead of finding happiness in marriage, Termeer discovers it to be a new source of self-hatred, hatred that he turns upon his wife and child. And when he becomes caught up in an affair with a woman as demanding as his own self-loathing, he is driven to murder.

What is the self, and how does it evade or come to terms with itself? What can make it go permanently, lethally wrong? Marcellus Emants’s grueling and gripping novel—a late-nineteenth-century tour de force of psychological penetration—is a lacerating exposition of the logic of identity that looks backward to Dostoyevsky, forward to Simenon, and beyond to the confessional literature, whether fiction or fact, of our own day.

A Posthumous Confession by Marcellus Emants is translated by J. M. Coetzee
More info:  New York Review Books

The Forbidden Kingdom

In Masters on November 7, 2012 at 9:51 AM

The Forbidden Kingdom - Slauerhoff

Jan Jacob Slauerhoff’s novel The Forbidden Kingdom, first published in 1932, is regarded as an important example of Dutch modernism. Translated from the Dutch by the award-winning Paul Vincent and published by Pushkin Press last August.

Review by the Guardian:

The Forbidden Kingdom is a romantic tale of adventure, seafaring and colonialism, told through an experimental narrative. Vincent’s translation presents a sophisticated form of double Dutch, as two parallel narratives slip back and forth, one concerning the 16th-century Portuguese poet Luis Camoes, the other a nameless 20th-century ship’s radio operator who describes himself as “the most rootless and raceless person alive”. Gradually, their trajectories are set on a collision course whereby Slauerhoff drops heavy hints they may be the same person.

It’s a confounding read, full of false starts, chronological quirks and unreliable narrators. The radio operator passes the time “constantly reading a book on the history of the three empires, which had the advantage that you never finished it, since by the end you had forgotten the beginning”. You lay this one aside understanding how he feels.

Discovering Louis Paul Boon

In Masters on October 30, 2012 at 9:00 PM

Louis Paul Boon

In 2009 Dalkey Archive Press published the first English translation of My Little War by the Flemish author Louis Paul Boon (1912–1979). According to the publisher Boon has suffered a near-complete critical neglect in English. Despite having written an enormous amount over an extensive career, Boon remains almost entirely untranslated in English until very recently. Boon’s early novels were conventionally structured historical treatments of nineteenth-century working-class life, but his exposure to major modernist figures such as Céline, Joyce, and Dos Passos changed his literary direction; he would go on to produce such modernistic fare as Chapel RoadSummer in Termuren, and My Little War. These novels, considered major classics of Dutch literature, remain almost unknown in the English-speaking world. My Little War was translated by the talented Paul Vincent.

On the publisher’s website you’ll find an excerpt (1st chapter) of My Little War

Here’s a review published on


Dutch Penguin Classics

In Masters on October 30, 2012 at 8:28 PM

Penguin Classics

Penguin published a few Dutch in the Penguin Classics. The series collects the best literature from all over the world. It’s therefore no wonder that two very influential Dutch books like In Praise of Folly, letter to Maarten van Dorp by Dutch renaissance humanist Desiderius Erasmus (first published in Dutch as Lof der Zotheid in 1511) and Max Havelaar, Or the Coffee Auctions of the Dutch Trading Company by Multatuli (published in 1860) are part of this amazing collection.

Two other titles in this series have a Dutch origin as well: The Letters of Vincent van Gogh and The Noble man and other Romances by Isabelle de Charrière. The latter author is Dutch born novelist (also known as Belle van Zuylen, 1740 – 1805), she lived half of her life in Switzerland and published in French.


Bernlef (1937-2012)

In Masters on October 30, 2012 at 12:58 AM

Today J. Bernlef passed away. Of the 75 years of his life, he was a novelist, essayist, poet and translator for over 50 years.

Bernlef debuted in 1960 and has produced an extensive body of work including poems, short stories, novels and essays. He translated the Scandinavian poets Lars Gustafsson and Tomas Tranströmer into Dutch and was editor of the literary periodicals Barbarber and Raster.

His most famous book Hersenschimmen (translated as Out of Mind in 1988) was published in 1984. In this novel Bernlef has depicted reality through the eyes of a man who is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

The New York Times wrote about Out of Mind:

Bernlef brings such intensity to the telling of this horribly fascinating tale that we have a sense of accompanying Maarten in his descent, not as observers but as participants in his tragedy. So we willingly suspend our disbelief in Maarten’s ability to narrate so coherently his growing incoherence. This is in part due to the human instinct to exclaim, “t could happen to me,” but chiefly to the power of Bernlef’s vivid prose, which has been translated with unobtrusive excellence by Adrienne Dixon.

He received many prizes for both his novels and his poetry, including the PC Hooft Prize and the Constantijn Huygens Prize. Other translated novels are Public Secret and Eclipse.

A Little Blog of Books

Book reviews and other literary-related musings

lis simone


Famous books from a small country

Just another site

the contextual life

thoughts without borders


literary translation news and updates

The Bookwyrm's Lair

Thoughts on Popular Books, High Literature, and the Printed Word

Fleur in her World

Notes from a bookish life on the Cornish coast ...


Books reviews with the occasional interview thrown in for good measure

The Overflown

Leftovers of interviews, reviews, press trips and features by an art/food/travel journalist and writer.

Lizzy's Literary Life

Celebrating the pleasures of a 21st century bookworm

A year of reading the world

196 countries, countless stories...

The Longest Chapter

Literary fiction, poetry, first editions, classics... News

Famous books from a small country