Author

J. Bernlef

Bernlef (1937-2012), who debuted in 1960, has produced an extensive body of work including poems, short stories, novels and essays. He translated the Scandinavian poets Lars Gustafson and Tomas Tranströmer into Dutch and was editor of the literary periodicals Barbarber and Raster. The best known of his many novels are Out of Mind (Hersenschimmen, 1984, which was made into a feature film and translated into many languages) and Publiek geheim (Public Secret, AKO Literature Prize 1987). He has received many prizes, including the PC Hooft Prize and the Constantijn Huygens Prize. His recent successful novels are Boy (2000, nominated for the Libris Literature Prize) and Buiten is het maandag (Outside It’s Monday, 2003, nominated for the Libris and AKO Literature Prize). In 2008, Bernlef was the author of the annual Book Week present, entitled De pianoman (The Piano Man), a novella, nearly a million copies being given away free.

Out Of Mind

Out Of Mind

(Querido, 1984, 166 pages)

In the novel Hersenschimmen, Bernlef has depicted reality through the eyes of a man who is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Maarten Klein, a Dutchman who has emigrated to the US, suddenly realizes he is losing grip on his once so familiar life, whether he likes it or not.

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Public Secret

Public Secret

(Querido, 1987, 242 pages)

J. Bernlef is above all an acute observer, and perception is central to his novels. In Out of Mind, his best-known title, he enters the mind of a man with dementia, drifting beyond the boundaries of sight and language. In his subsequent book, the prize-winning novel Public Secret, set in the early 1980s in an Eastern Bloc country indistinguishable from Hungary, the author remains in the background, dispassionately registering events.

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Falling Star

Falling Star

(Querido, 1989, 87 pages)

In Vallende ster Bernlef takes the process of disintegration he described in Hersenschimmen (Out Of Mind, 1984) even further. The novella is the report of an interior monologue of an old vaudeville artist who is waiting to die in a hospital. For him the outside world no longer exists; nothing belongs to anything, there is nothing left to be named or designated.

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Eclipse

Eclipse

(Querido, 1993, 166 pages)

Eclipse is a fascinating examination of the nature of perception by one of the Netherlands’ foremost writers. If Bernlef’s earlier and famous novel Out of Mind described a decline into dementia and the loss of language that accompanies it, this book is its mirror image. It starts with an accident that leaves Kees Zomer’s body and speech incapacitated and traces their gradual return to at least a semblance of normality.

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Boy

Boy

(Querido, 2000, 317 pages)

In the space of forty years, J. Bernlef has built up an impressive oeuvre. His final breakthrough came with the novel Hersenschimmen (Out of Mind), in which he describes the process of decline in an ageing man, whose consciousness is slowly ebbing away into dementia. Especially impressive are the descriptions of the changes that occur in the man’s linguistic ability, a theme that Bernlef elaborated on in the novella, Eclipse (1994).

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Outside It’s Monday

Outside It’s Monday

(Querido, 2003, 214 pages)

In his new novel Bernlef explores the subterranean labyrinths of memory, examining what endures and what disappears. The narrator’s tone is contemplative, philosophical and resigned, and yet at the same time he tells an exciting story with a keen sense of pacing. The combination is surprisingly effective. The great marvel of this serious novel is its natural grace.

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A Boy’s War

A Boy’s War

(Querido, 2005, 132 pages)

A Boy’s War has a special place in Bernlef’s substantial work. Previously published as Achterhoedegevecht (‘Rearguard Action’, 1989) Bernlef has since pared this coming of age drama down to its essence. Twelve-year-old Michiel is sent away from Amsterdam by his parents in the last year of the war, to the Tulp family in the village of Driewoude, to fatten up. There in the country the war manifests itself completely differently.

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The Invisible Boy

The Invisible Boy

(Querido, 2005, 127 pages)

Bernlef’s eleventh novel presents several familiar themes, such as the workings of memory and the curious role of perception. Where in his best seller Hersenschimmen (‘Chimeras’) there are gaps in the memory, this novel centres on remembering. ‘Every blade of grass, every light beam, every ridge in every stone, all those things separately remembered.’ This too is apparently difficult to live with.

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The Red Dream

The Red Dream

(Querido, 2009, 236 pages)

De rode droom (The Red Dream) is a playful, unconventional novel about two older men who are engrossed in their dream of a new utopia. Spare-time philosophers Krap and Kowalski live in K, a city where they plan and develop theories to advance society. When their country Homeland is taken over by the regime of Neighbouring Country, many of their certainties are shattered and both lose their jobs – one as attendant at the Lift Museum, the other as a lavatory-paper distributor.

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Translations

Website

http://www.bernlef.net