Author

Hella S. Haasse

Hella S. Haasse (1918 - 2011) was born in Batavia, modern-day Jakarta. She moved to the Netherlands after secondary school. In 1945 she debuted with a collection of poems, entitled Stroomversnelling (Momentum). She made her name three years later with the novella given out to mark the Dutch Book Week, Oeroeg. As with much of her work, this tale of the friendship between a Dutch and an Indonesian boy has gained the status of a classic in the Netherlands.
Titles such as Het woud der verwachting (In a Dark Wood Wandering, 1949), Een nieuwer testament (Threshold of Fire, 1966) and Mevrouw Bentinck of Onverenigbaarheid van karakter (Mrs Bentinck or Irreconcilable in Character, 1978) have been greatly enjoyed by several generations. In 1992 she published another novel about her home country, the Dutch East Indies: the highly acclaimed Heren van de thee (The Tea Merchants).
Her work is characterised by an adequate and well thought out vocabulary and a flexible sentence structure. Her non-historical novels and stories are often about ordinary people who are intensely confronted by their choices and circumstances: De ingewijden (The Insiders, 1957), Huurders en onderhuurders (Tenants and Sub-tenants, 1971), Berichten van het blauwe huis (Messages from the Blue House, 1986), Fenrir (2000) and Sleuteloog (Eye of the Key, 2002). Haasse also published various collections of essays, including Uitgesproken, opgeschreven (Recited, Recorded, 1996) and Zwanen schieten (Shooting Swans, 1998).
In 2006 her short stories were brought together in Het tuinhuis (The Garden House). Haasse has received several prestigious literary awards, among which the P.C. Hooft Prize (1983) and the Dutch Literature Prize (Prijs der Nederlandse Letteren, 2004), and her work has been translated into many languages.

Oeroeg

Oeroeg

(Querido, 1948, 116 pages)

For many Dutch people, Oeroeg was an eyeopening introduction to race relations in the colonial Dutch East Indies. In the brief scope of a novella, Haasse illuminates the fundamental problems of the colonial system.

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In a Dark Wood Wandering

In a Dark Wood Wandering

(Querido, 1949, 577 pages)

In this biography of the 15th-century poet-statesman Charles d’Orléans Haasse blends historical facts with psychological and social interpretation. Behind the family quarrels between the houses of Burgundy and Orleans are people and emotions and she attempts to expose the human motives for murder and intrigue.

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The Scarlet City

The Scarlet City

(Querido, 1952, 242 pages)

Much of Haasse’s work consists of historical novels, a genre eminently suited to her erudition and her subtle, penetrating mind. By opting for historical fiction she is not fleeing the present, but rather voicing her deep conviction that history is what determines the present. In the labyrinthine essay The Gardens of Bomarzo, she says: ‘Nothing is ever entirely past.’ In 1952 Hella Haasse surprised her readers with The Scarlet City, an ingenious novel based around the figure of Giovanni Borgia, shortly before the plundering of the papal city by Charles V ’s troops in 1527.

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The Ways of the Imagination

(Querido, 1983, 149 pages)

Another dimension of Haasse’s talent is on display in The Ways of the Imagination, an impressive product of her creative powers in which her evocative prose shimmers with hidden meanings. A truck driver gives a stranded Dutch family a lift to the south of France and, as they drive through the night, tells them about his adventures on the road. Many of the characters are caught up in uncanny events; others are enigmatic figures, powered by passions they choose not to explain. This casts the reader in the role of detective, requiring us to collect the clues, tie together the loose ends and reconstruct the story of a life.

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Messages From The Blue House

Messages From The Blue House

(Querido, 1986, 136 pages)

After having spent half a century abroad, sisters Felicia and Nina return to the house of their youth. It is only for the summer, the house has been sold and is one to be demolished. For the two sisters, however, this short period is one of fierce confrontation with one another and their past. The sisters have lead entirely different lives. As the wife of a diplomat Felicia has moved in society circles in many South American countries and has now retired to a chalet in Switzerland. Nina has led, certainly to her sister’s mind, a mysterious and adventurous life in Argentina. She has travelled about with a famous guitarist who was closely involved with the guerrilla movement.

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The Tea Merchants

The Tea Merchants

(Querido, 1992)

Hella Haasse is the ‘grande dame’ of Dutch letters. She made her name with lengthy, excellently documented, fast paced historical novels on subjects ranging from the life of Charles d’Orleans in early fifteenthcentury France to the Papal court in Rome (the ‘scarlet city’) a century later. The most successful of all her novels with historical settings is Heren van de thee (The Tea Merchants), which continues to sell.

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Transit

Transit

(Querido, 1994, 92 pages)

Xenia, achttien jaar, heeft een tijd door Europa gezworven en komt aan op het Centraal Station van Amsterdam. Iks (zoals ze zichzelf noemt) hoopt onderdak te vinden bij haar vrienden Alma en Daan, die ze voor haar omzwervingen achterliet in de stad. Die hoop wordt al snel de bodem ingeslagen.

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Fenrir: A Long Weekend in the Ardennes

Fenrir: A Long Weekend in the Ardennes

(Querido, 2000, 163 pages)

Hella Haasse’s popularity with a wide range of readers may have contributed to her not being included in the list of great post-war Dutch authors; nevertheless she does deserve a place among the likes of Claus, Hermans and Mulisch. Regardless of the genre in which she writes, she has always remained herself, always driven by a certain inquisitiveness and astonishment about the world around us. That world has often been a world of the past, such as that of Charles D’Orléans in In a Dark Wood Wandering, or colonial pre-war Batavia (now Indonesia), which is described so beautifully in Heren van de thee (The Tea Merchants). The main characters are often writers or poets, who are in their…

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Eye of the Key

Eye of the Key

(Querido, 2002, 200 pages)

Despite her advanced years, Hella S. Haasse always succeeds magnificently in penning novels that add something new and radical to her majestic oeuvre. Her latest novel has even been hailed by Dutch literary critics as one of the best she has ever written.
In Sleuteloog, Haasse returns to the Dutch East Indies, to her native soil and the place she considers the breeding ground of her imagination. This was also the setting for her debut novel from 1948, Oeroeg (Forever a Stranger), which brought her overnight recognition as a Dutch writer.

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The Garden House

The Garden House

(Querido, 2006, 151 pages)

Hella S. Haasse is renowned for her historical novels. They are intelligent, exciting, and well-documented; they take the reader by surprise and lead one back, compellingly, to another time and place. When she uses contemporary settings for her novels and stories, she generally writes about ordinary people, characters engaged in a profound struggle with personal choices and circumstances.

Het tuinhuis (The Garden House), a collection of the short stories that Haasse has written during her rich and long authorship, proves that she can create the same effects with fewer words. Most remarkable is the way in which Haasse subtly and imperceptibly lures the reader into a new atmospheric setting…

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Translated books

Website

http://www.hellahaasse.nl/