There have been a lot of videos on BookTube and posts on book blogs on ‘reading diversely’ recently. When Alice wrote a blog post about it, we came to the conclusion that we would not only like to know more of literature from outside of Europe, but also from within. She recently published a post on five Norwegian authors we should read and today I’m going to introduce five Dutch authors that have written must-read books!
I think I could write one or two other blog posts on this subject, so I’m just going to introduce five authors I picked out more or less randomly. (Note: these ‘Found In Translation’-series will only contain translated works – just stating the obvious here!)
Arthur Japin has written mostly historical fiction and I think In Lucia’s Eyes is his most famous one. It tells the story of Casanova and his first ever sweetheart Lucia. It is a marvellous and heart wrenching tale and it frequently features in a lot of ‘favorites’ and ‘best book’ lists. If I could recommend any Dutch translated fiction to begin with, I’d suggest you start with Japin. It is a true piece of art!Only one of his other novels – also historical fiction – has been translated. It is called The Two Hearts of Kwasi Boachi about two African princes that arrive at the court of the Netherlands’ first king William I. I haven’t read those yet but I heard great stories about this book as well.
Hella S. Haasse
Japin is definitely on my favorites list, but Haasse is a writer that I might even love more. She has passed away a few years ago, but she’s still considered the ‘Grand Old Lady of Dutch literature’ and is most famous for her historical fiction. Her books focus on de Dutch East Indies (where she was born) and Scandinavian myths. Her most famous novel in the Netherlands is probably Oeroeg (which is actually a novella), written in the 1940s: a beautiful story about the disintegrating friendship between a Dutch boy and Oeroeg, a local boy. I searched everywhere, but I think this one has not been translated into English. However, she has written two other books that deserve your attention. The first is The Tea Lords, a piece of historical fiction on the Dutch East Indies. I think no one has been able since to describe the society in the Dutch colony better, nor has anyone developed such an outstanding and descriptive way of writing. If you’re into historical fiction, I would heartily recommend this novel.
Her other novel that has been translated is quite a chunky book and is called In Dark Wood Wandering, which bears the subtitle A Novel of the Middle Ages. It is set during the Hundred Years War (1337-1453) and focuses on great historical figures like Charles VI, Joan of Arc and Charles d’Orleans. I haven’t read this particular novel yet, but my father absolutely loved it.
If a Dutch author would ever win the Nobel Prize in Literature, it would be Mulisch. At least, that is what a lot of people thought when Mulisch was still alive (and what he thought as well – he wasn’t really modest). I have started his magnum opus, The Discovery of Heaven, but I think I was a bit young at that time (I was 18). It is however considered a great piece of literature. I think I won’t be able to summarize the book for you because it is immense, complex and involves angel-like creatures.His magnum opus is quite a big book, so if you’d like to start with something else I would recommend The Assault. It is very well written, full of symbolism (but in a very interesting and good way) and deals with the consequences for the lone survivor of a Nazi retaliation on an innocent family. Other books by Mulisch that have been translated are Siegfried and The Procedure.
If you’re into fin-de-siècle literature, Couperus is your man. Just like Haasse, he has written a few novels on the Dutch East Indies, but also about the society of The Hague/Den Haag. His most famous novel is Eline Vere, a very, very beautiful and psychological masterpiece ‘inspired by Flaubert and Tolstoy’. I read this when I was quite young – I guess around 17 – and it had a huge impact. It is such a beautiful novel and quite haunting in a way.This year I’ve read The Hidden Force by Couperus, a novel set in the Dutch East Indies. As you may have guessed by the title it is again a quite haunting book, but very well written. When it came out in 1900, Dutch society was quite shocked at the Mrs Dalloway-ish character of a certain person in the novel. It is definitely worth the read! Other novels that have been translated include Ecstasy, Psyche, Old People and the Things That Pass and Inevitable.
I think it would be nice to end this post with two famous children’s books: The Letter for the King and The Secrets of the Wild Wood by Tonke Dragt. The first one especially is very, very good. If you like fantasy, knights and a good adventure, you should definitely pick that one up. The Secrets of the Wild Wood is its sequel and the translation comes out on the 10th of September. I’ve read them both in Dutch, but the English covers are so beautiful that I would really like to get my hands on the English editions as well. Plus, I’d like to see how two of my favourite children’s books have been translated!
That’s it for today! I hope you enjoyed this ‘top 5’.
Have you read any translated Dutch literature?