Helga Ruebsamen

The Song and the Truth

A big novel about growing up between two cultures, colonial life and the threat of a European war

Throughout her writing career Helga Ruebsamen has been something of a writer‘s writer. Not because her short story collections are accessible only to connoisseurs of fine prose: on the contrary, the critics have always praised the clarity of her style. No, the relatively limited extent of her readership has always been an injustice. Her new novel, Het lied en de waarheid, has finally set things right. This big novel, in which Ruebsamen subtly presents her childhood memories of a country house in the Dutch East Indies and the horrors of the Second World War, is nothing short of sensational.

How to explain this sudden success? First of all, the novel‘s material is pure gold. The book begins with Ruebsamen‘s alter ego, five-year-old Louise Benda, surveying enchanting surroundings. With an artistic writer mother and a dedicated doctor as a father, Loulou‘s imaginative and sensitive perspective makes the family home in the Dutch East Indies paradisiacal. The garden is inhabited by spirits and when the lights are turned off Loulou talks to ’night people‘ in a language of her own invention. The idyll is disturbed only by letters from a fearful unstable Europe. Evil is on its way. Furious and despairing in the face of the oncoming war, Loulou‘s father decides to go back to Europe to help his Jewish family. The whole family leaves paradise on a ship. They disembark in France, spend some time in Paris, and arrive in a cold and misty The Hague in the winter of 1939.

Loulou‘s journey from her motherland to her fatherland is an unimaginable shock. She has been plucked from a light-hearted existence in the fresh air and set down in rooms ’behind lined curtains‘. When war breaks out, things go from bad to worse. Loulou and her father have to go into hiding in the Dutch countryside. Miraculously they survive, even when the Germans torch the farmhouse they‘re hiding in. It‘s only in the book‘s last sentence that the little girl, emotionally broken and wrenched away from her world of enchantment, is free to commence her journey back.

Despite its impressive autobiographical elements, this novel‘s strength lies not so much in ’the truth‘ as in ’the song‘. Ruebsamen‘s style and her capacity to creep into the little girl‘s perspective are astounding. Identifying with an external world that starts off idyllic and becomes more and more menacing, Loulou‘s inner conflict has such tragic power that readers cannot help but be won over.

With Het lied en de waarheid, Helga Ruebsamen has written her magnum opus, a sweeping and perceptive novel.

T. van Deel, Trouw

We see Het lied en de waarheid through the eyes of a child – and this feat of daring is a resounding success.

Aleid Truijens, de Volkskrant

A beautiful and compelling book.

Jaap Goedegebuure, HP/De Tijd

A fascinating family portrait reconstructed from the wreckage of the past: enchanting and tough as nails.

Jan Paul Bresser, Elsevier


Helga Ruebsamen

Helga Ruebsamen was born in Batavia (present-day Djakarta) in 1934, when Indonesia was still called the Dutch East Indies. When she was six, her family moved to The Hague. Between 1964 and 1971, Ruebsamen published four books, after which no writing appeared from her hand for eighteen years. Then…

lees meer


Het lied en de waarheid (1997). Fiction, 396 pages.
Copies sold: 41,000



Keizersgracht 205
NL - 1016 DS Amsterdam
The Netherlands
Tel: +31 20 535 25 35
Fax: +31 20 535 25 49

[email protected]

lees meer