De tienduizend dingen
A classic novel that has inspired readers across the world
A consummate stylist, Maria Dermoût is renowned for leaving her readers with final sentences that resonate with hope and consolation. She invests her characters with strength and self-awareness, in the full knowledge that while life can be unjust it is still worth living, and she writes in prose so sensual and vivid that you can almost inhabit the world she describes.
When Felicia is sent away to be educated in the Netherlands as a young girl, her grandmother gives her a bracelet, ‘This is for you. Make sure you come back with it.’ Felicia does exactly that. She returns with her son and without a husband to the remote island in the Dutch East Indies where her grandmother still lives. There Felicia finds herself wedded to an uncanny and dangerous world, full of mystery and violence, where objects tell tales, the dead come and go, and the past is as potent as the future.
Felicia’s son falls in love with a woman who already has a child and he joins the army, only to have his life cruelly cut short.
Even in her grief, Felicia continues to believe in her grandmother’s simple wisdom: see the beauty, see the ten thousand things around you.
Dermoût interweaves the various elements of her subtle novel to over- whelming effect: there is something intrinsically Asian about her mesmeric style and powerful use of repetition. Events are told and retold from differing perspectives, since that is how human beings learn about themselves and the world.
At the end of the novel, Felicia sits alone on her veranda. She does this one day each year, to meet her departed loved ones, to talk with them and to try to come to terms with the brutal death of her son. Her servants call her inside as evening falls. ‘Then the lady of the Small Garden whose name was Felicia stood up from her chair obediently and without looking around at the inner bay in the moonlight – it would remain there, always – she went with them, under the trees and indoors, to drink her cup of coffee and try again to go on living.’