A collection of essays on modern Dutch language literature.

Voices from the North

Jelle van der Meulen, Thomas Möhlmann

14 March 2019

In Friesland, the most northwestern province of the Netherlands, everyone speaks Dutch, but a large portion of the population also speaks Holland’s second official language: Frisian. For writers and poets using Frisian, the potential reader- ship is limited, as no more than approxi- mately half a million people consider it their mother tongue. But the sensuality and powerful imagery of the language, as well as its unique idioms and humour, have an appeal that refuses to tailor itself to practical considerations. For many poets, Frisian is simply the best language to express what they want to say.

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Marit Törnqvist

12 June 2017

Hardly anyone could have failed to notice this book in recent months. An anthology in Arabic for child refugees. A lot of people smile when they see the book. Because it opens the other way around. And I think letters are funny too when you can’t read them. Jip and Janneke and Frog in Arabic, read from left to right. Jubelientje. Alfie the Werewolf.

But behind this book is a deadly serious story.

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Crime literature in the Low Countries - This is what we fear

Dick Broer

28 June 2016

Over the past two decades, crime literature in the Low Countries has come of age. Established crime authors are attracting a large readership with their often down-to-earth, realistic crime stories. Renowned literary authors are no longer averse to suspense and are delivering exciting novels that are both successful and popular. Talented new writers are announcing themselves with idiosyncratic, well-written thrillers.

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Dutch non-fiction – universal and without borders

Mireille Berman

7 April 2016

Dutch non-fiction tends not to be about the Netherlands. Many non-fiction authors write on subjects that are played out far from our borders, or else the books are so universal in character that it is difficult to define them as typically Dutch. Where this strongly international orientation comes from is a moot point: is it from the tradition of being a trading power, thereby always open to international influences, or is it from a lack of any strongly national mind-set?

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Judges' Report

Paul Binding, Susan Massotty, Ina Rilke

25 February 2010

The Vondel Translation prize for the best English translation of a Dutch book published during 2007 and 2008 goes to Sam Garrett for his translation of Ararat, written by Frank Westerman (Harvill Secker 2008).

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Cees Nooteboom

27 August 2007

Histories of Dutch literature identify the novel Character as a work of the New Objectivity, a movement from the first half of the twentieth century that came as a reaction to the lyrical and symbolist prose that preceded it. Reading the book again after so many years, I am struck mainly by the emotional, dramatic undertone, which is amplified by a style you could call notarial, as if the book has been written with a cold etching needle. This contrast between legalistic prose and dramatic themes has an extraordinary effect; perhaps best described as “cold fire”.

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Dark Poetry and Ambiguity

Milan Kundera

14 February 2007

History as it is recorded on the collective memory bears little resemblance to what actual people lived through. Without realising, people eventually come to be fashion their memories on what is said in the present. Then, one day, a novelist (a genuine novelist) rediscovers the concrete reality of a historical period we believed we knew, and everything seems different. There is always something shocking about such discrepancies. This is why the great novels which take place during the last European war (and the days which followed) were, initially, poorly received. I am thinking of Malaparte’s La pelle [1]. Or indeed Tworki by Marek Bienczyk, about which I wrote in these pages (DeNoël, 2006). And now The Darkroom of Damocles [2], by Willem Frederik Hermans.

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Waiting for a Pioneer

Gijs Korevaar

16 May 2006

A writer’s success can, to a certain degree, be determined by his sales figures. By this token, Saskia Noort stands head and shoulders above the rest. Of her three books that have been published so far, more than 750,000 have been sold, which means that there is a Saskia Noort book in almost one in every ten houses in The Netherlands. It is the tip of the iceberg. Behind her, authors are lined up: old hands, beginners, young women, middle-aged men. Together they produce about fifty thrillers a year, all with one thing in common: they are sparsely translated and therefore unknown abroad, unknown and therefore unpopular.

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Young poets, packed houses

Tatjana Daan

30 March 2006

They were on either side of forty, the poets who passed for the ‘young guard’ of Dutch poetry in the mid-eighties. Huub Beurskens, Willem Jan Otten, Robert Anker, Anneke Brassinga, Stefan Hertmans, Luuk Gruwez, Charles Ducal. For many years they had been regarded as the newest generation of gifted poets. But in the late nineties things began to change, and today’s ‘young poets’ are no longer in their forties, but in their twenties and thirties. In another development, the mid-nineties saw a revival of interest in poetry performances in Holland and Flanders. Poems were no longer read in seclusion, which had previously been seen as the only way to enjoy poetry.

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Beauty and Truth neighbours once more

Ger Groot

22 March 2006

Considering there are many highly literary works of non-fiction from Flanders and the Netherlands, Ger Groot asks how justifiably the position is that literature means ‘fiction’. A look at a number of highlights.

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God's Fingerprint

Onno Blom

15 August 2003

‘If you’re lucky, you sometimes come across an intellectual who knows where The Netherlands are when you’re abroad,’ wrote Gerrit Komrij in the late eighties of the previous century. ‘Roughly, at least. Somewhere near Denmark. It’s incredibly difficult to explain to such a person that The Netherlands have their own language, for instance.

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A Quilt of Many Colours

Annemie Leysen

30 March 2000

The children’s book landscape of the Low Countries is particularly rich in variety. It resembles a patchwork quilt of tiny meadows and broad pastures, of busy sprawling cities and peaceful sleepy villages, of hilly regions and vast plains, of weed-covered ditches and turbulent streams. Upon closer examination the literary geographer will also notice a demographic distinction: a single language region with two dialects, two cultures, two historical backgrounds.

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Between the Individual and Society

Jaap Goedegebuure

19 September 1997

Dutch is a language spoken not only by some twenty-five million people living in the Netherlands and Flanders (the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium) but also in Surinam and on the islands of Curaçao, Bonaire and Aruba. Authors who write in Dutch can therefore communicate with readers in a variety of different countries. Books cross borders drawn by history, just as history has left its mark on literature. Colonisation and decolonisation have profoundly influenced many of the novels that appeared since Multatuli’s landmark Max Havelaar (1860). The Northern Netherlands broke away from Spain during the Eighty Years’ War (1568-1648) while Spain retained control of the south. The Southern Netherlands had a decisive impact on the respective cultures of modern Holland and Belgium. Protestantism determined the culture of the north to a large extent, Catholicism that of the south.

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There Is No Such Thing as Dutch Literature

Hermann Wallmann

18 March 1997

When it comes to thematic art exhibitions, consistency of content is more important than the quality of the pictures and objects displayed. The same applies to a national literature when it is taken as the theme of a festival, a series of readings, or the Frankfurt Book Fair.

Why should I be interested in Dutch literature just because it happens to come from Belgium or the Netherlands? A writer wants to find his own answers, which has nothing to do with arrogance but everything with discipline and technique. He doesn’t represent a country, let alone a government, but rather his own particular qualities.

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A Walk on the Wild Square

Paul Demets

30 May 1996

In the essay ‘A Walk on the Wild Square’ Paul Demets strolls around in the poetic landscape of the 1980s and 1990s. Demets is a poetry critic for the Flemish daily De Morgen. He contributes regularly to literary journals (Awater en Ons Erfdeel) and writes poetry (De papegaaienziekte, Meulenhoff, 1999 and De bloedplek, De Bezige Bij, 2012.

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