notes on dutch literature

Posts Tagged ‘Ina Rilke’

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.


Love’s Death

In Review on November 19, 2012 at 8:30 AM

Love's Death - Oscar van den Boogaard

A destroyed family and an artfully concealed secret history are laid bare with near-surgical precision in Loves Death, a superbly constructed 1999 novel, the fifth (and first in English translation) by one of Holland’s most accomplished and respected writers Oscar  van den Bogaard. Love’s Death was published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2001 and translated by Ina Rilke.

It begins in 1973 with a heartstopping description of Inez Herman’s discovery of the body of her neighbors’ young daughter Vera Klein at the bottom of the Hermans’ swimming pool. Then, in present-tense narration, and rapid-fire sequences of brief declarative sentences, van den Boogard focuses on the grief of Vera’s mother Oda Klein, her withdrawal from her stricken husband Paul (a career army officer), and Paul’s later “escape” to a military post in Suriname, and his three-year separation from Oda. Then the narrative leaps ahead to 1980, Paul’s return home and muted reconciliation with the emotionally opaque Oda: a situation that’s complicated when Daisy—a 15-year-old American girl staying with the Hermans—becomes the Kleins’ houseguest, remaining with them after the Hermans’ house has been mostly destroyed by a mysterious fire; becoming, in effect, a replacement for the daughter Oda and Paul have lost.

Read here the review by Kirkus Reviews

Stylistically, Love’s Death is astounding. Boogaard deftly stretches out time through acute attention to every detail, mirroring the attempts of the characters to keep a hold of something in the present. The narrative is told almost entirely in the present tense and at times with such sparseness, such directness, that the sense of loss permeating the text is truly experienced by the reader.
– Jason D. Fichtel, Review of Contemporary Fiction , Fall 2001

My Fellow Skin

In Review on November 18, 2012 at 4:01 PM

My Fellow Skin - Erwin Mortier

There is a sense in which Belgian novelist Erwin Mortier’s My Fellow Skin resembles Proust in his resurrection of lost significant moments. But Proust’s world is wound round in webs of reflection and explanation. Mortier strings those obstinately persisting moments of fear, incomprehension, relief like discrete beads on a string. His first-person narrator does not say he is looking for a pattern of causality or inherent psychological structure. But the linear threading of the beads is itself an ordering.

This is a Bildungsroman which is related to much European literature from Proust and Mann onwards. It is very sparsely populated with things and incidents, but what there are are peculiarly unforgettable, as though the memories of Anton’s body have been acquired by the reader. We are stifled and illuminated with him.

This depends of course on the writing, and the quality of writing is not always easy to discern through the glass of translation. Mortier is fortunate in his brilliant translator, Ina Rilke, who appears to have picked up all the little theological and historical references, all the almost invisible linked motifs, and woven them into an English whose rhythms have an apparently easy clarity and subtlety. Between them they have made a clear and articulate work of art.

Read the full review by A.S Byatt in The Guardian

Two other novels by Mortier, Marcel and Shutterspeed are beautifully translated by Ina Rilke as well, “Mortier writes beautiful metaphorical prose…Marcel is a literary debut of great originality.” The Times Literary Supplement.

Pushkin Press (London, UK) recently bought the foreign rights for Mortier’s award winning novel Godenslaap and Gestameld Liedboek. Pushkin Press will also reprint Marcel, My Fellow Skin and Shutterspeed.

The Dutch read W.F. Hermans

In Pick of the Week on November 10, 2012 at 2:41 PM


Willem Frederik Hermans (1921-1995) was an adolescent in Amsterdam during the Second World War, a period that made an indelible impression on him, compounded by his older sister and cousin committing suicide soon after the German invasion in 1940. Hermans often chooses the war as backdrop for his novels, since it is an environment in which malice and misunderstanding, and the pointlessness of our existence can best be brought to the surface.The Darkroom of Damocles is no exception.

The Netherlands Reads is the Dutch version of US campaign One Book, One City run by the Foundation for Joint Publicity for Dutch Literature (CPNB). After previous successes promoting Dutch classics like Two Women by Harry Mulish in 2008 and The Happy Class by Theo Thijssen (2007), this year the Dutch are reading The Darkroom of Damocles (translated by Ina Rilke, Overlook Press).

The Darkroom of Damocles is about the tobacconist Henri Osewoudt, a man a bit too short to fight in the Dutch army during World War II, but who gets involved with Dorbeck, a mysterious figure supposedly involved with the Dutch resistance who looks exactly like Osewoudt. Osewoudt is very much a pawn, doing whatever Dorbeck tells him, such as helping British agents and murdering traitors.

The whole time, it’s clear that Osewoudt is in way over his head, and isn’t completely sure what’s going on. What’s worse—for him personally—is that he’s suspected by both the Germans and the Dutch, a situation that really comes to a head after the war ends, and Dorbeck is nowhere to be found.

The impossibility of deciding what’s “right” from what’s “wrong” in relation to the war, is what really drives this book.

“Yet it would be a mistake to read The Darkroom of Damocles, which was first published in 1958, as a historical account. Rather, the Occupation, with its moral reversals, its laws and shibboleths, its imposed need for disguises, untruths and assumptions of alien identity, provides the perfect setting for Hermans to exercise his disillusioned view of human nature. (…) To read this novel in Ina Rilke’s sensitive, supple English is a literary experience of the rarest kind.” – Paul Binding, Times Literary Supplement


In Review on November 9, 2012 at 11:33 AM

Julia - Otto de Kat

‘His writing is as spare and controlled as a poem and just as beautiful’ – Julia by Otto de Kat

Otto de Kat (real name Jan Geurt Gaarlandt) was born in Holland in 1946. He studied theology and Dutch literature at university and has worked as a literary critic and publisher. I had not come across him before, but he has previously published a collection of poetry (The Ironic Charter) and two other novels (The Figure in the Distance 2002 and Man on the Move 2009). All of his novels are short; Julia is less than two hundred pages. It didn’t surprise me that de Kat had previously published poetry as his writing is as spare and controlled as a poem and just as beautiful. Ina Rilke was born in Mozambique and grew up in Portugal. She translates Dutch and French literature into English and has won the Vondel Prize, the Scott Moncrieff Prize and the Flemish Culture Prize.

via ‘His writing is as spare and controlled as a poem and just as beautiful’ – Julia by Otto de Kat.

via Julia.

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