Book

Jeroen Thijssen

Solitude

Intriguing family novel set against the background of Dutch colonial history

Frank and Robert Bramme live in a squat. The brothers grew up at their grand­father’s house after their parents died young. The grandfather has dementia and has been admitted to a nursing home. Managing his affairs and having no money themselves, the brothers find themselves forced to give up the old house. While clearing it out they discover a collection of cardboard boxes in the attic. This is the starting point of a suspenseful story that takes the reader back to Indonesia in the 19th century, where the brothers’ ances­tors ran a family plantation. With this rich and atmospheric novel, Jeroen Thijssen follows in the footsteps of Multatuli and Hella S. Haasse.

The books, seaman’s books, letters and diaries from the boxes become the raw material for a book Frank writes about the history of his family and a plantation called Solitude in the Dutch East Indies, now Indonesia. His story starts with the brothers Hendrik and Theo. They served in the East Indies Army and took part in the Lombok Expedition of 1894. Having survived the bloody battle at Tjakra Negara where the army was lured into a trap and forced to retreat, they were among the same troops when the strong­hold was recaptured six months late. Entering the Raja’s place, Hendrik and Theo happen upon a wealth of precious stones and steal them.

With capital from the stones, Theo buys the daily paper The Typhoon, and Hendrik a plantation called Solitude, far from Batavia. Both Theo and Hendrik have sons, who more or less follow in their father’s footsteps. Theo’s son shares his father’s liking for drink and brothels, while Hendrik’s son Simon takes over the running of the plantation after his father contracts a muscle-wasting disease. During the Japanese occupation and the Indonesian War of Independence that follows, Simon in particular runs into difficulties. He’s a proud plantation owner but also feels a strong connection with local villagers and with Barep, who turns out to be his half-brother.

Thijssen describes the present life of the brothers in their squat and that of their forebears in the Indies with an equal feel for atmosphere and detail. He cleverly interweaves colonial relationships, and in a sense their indictment, with the fate of his characters, postponing with masterly control the revelation of dark family secrets. A wonderful page-turner to the very end.

With this story Thijssen gains a place for himself in the literary tradition that comes to terms with Dutch colonial history, along with Hella Haasse, Couperus, Multatuli and, especially, E. du Perron’s Country of Origin (1935) in which engagement is seen from various perspectives.

De Volkskrant

Thijssen’s knowledge of history is astonishing. […] His ability to tell a gripping story that continually takes new twists and turns makes the book irresistible and his evocation of characters draws us in.

NRC Handelsblad

Jeroen Thijssen

Jeroen Thijssen (b. 1959) is the author of A Trip Around Gaul (2010) and the short-story collections The Marshall and Other Stories (1998) and The Children of the Triple A (2009). After Brother (2007), Solitude (2014) is his second novel. Taste, a book about food and flavour, will be published in…

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Details

Solitude (2014). Fiction, 464 pages.
Words: 150,000

Themes: colonial history

Publisher

Nieuw Amsterdam

Johannes Vermeerstraat 63
1071 DN Amsterdam
The Netherlands
Tel: +31 20 570 61 00
Fax: +31 20 570 61 99

E-mail:
info@nieuwamsterdam.nl
Website:
http://www.nieuwamsterdam.nl

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Literary agent

2 Seas Agency

1129 Maricopa Hwy, Suite 175
93023 Ojai, California
USA
Tel: +1 805 633 0622
E-mail:
marleen.seegers@2seasagency.c…
Website:
http://www.2seasagency.com/

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