The Ten Thousand Things

The bookseller grinned broadly and actually looked me in the eye. Apparently it’s not often that people looking for books in English go straight for the Dutch literature. But how Dutch is this book anyway? It’s caught between two worlds: “Holland” is the “old country” and the tale unfolds on the Spice Islands, where the wild orchids bloom, and the colonial botanists come to collect them:


It’s hard to believe that Marlen Dermoût wrote The Ten Thousand Things sixty years ago. But you can see straight away why Hans Koning wanted to translate it, and why the publisher snapped it up. Like the author, the son in the story was educated in the Netherlands, where his family came from, but then went back to the Moluccas, where he grew up:


The story isn’t so much about Himpies as his mother, and most of all, but her home, and the garden within it, and the ghosts within it; people of the island itself. The island is beautiful and dangerous and occupied and home; Dermoût captures all these layers at once:


I would never have found this if I hadn’t been a tourist in Amsterdam and walked past a real physical bookshop, the American Book Center. We need places like this, and booksellers whose eyes light up when you find something that ties you to the place they’re in…

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Posted in books, history, international, translation

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