A.F.Th. van der Heijden

The Movo Tapes

Chockfull of verbal fireworks

After seven years of silence A.F.Th. van der Heijden has published De Movo Tapes, the ‘zeroth’ volume of the Homo duplex – ‘split human’ – series that, according to a list of titles in the front of the book, will extend over nine volumes.

Although a series of books in which everything connects up organically is typical of Van der Heijden, his new saga is fundamentally different. Homo duplex does not look back at a recent past but takes place in an imagined near future. In addition endows his hero with distinctly mythical traits. In Homo duplex A.F.Th will recreate the myth of Oedipus in modern times, not by following Sophocles’ tragedy step by step, but by using the elements of the myth to create a sparkling new story.

The name of A.F.Th.‘s modern Oedipus is Tibbolt Satink, born after his mother has a bizarre traffic accident on a car-free Sunday. Tibbolt, soon sure of his own special nature, seeks a transformation. He is convinced that he can saddle someone else with his death, but to do this he must himself first become someone else.

The story of Tibbolt/Movo is told in two intertwining narratives. One narrative has a character who can be identified as Apollo. This character, who will later adorn himself with the code name QX-Q-8, recounts how he was able to track down a box of cassette tapes in the basement archives of an Amsterdam publishing house after Movo’s death. The tapes have deteriorated because of moisture and dirt, and QX-Q-8 has them restored in a laboratory; so that he can listen to Movo’s spoken notes for the book about his amazing transformation: A career as someone else.

In the other story Tibbolt Satink himself speaks in raw, pointed monologues. He records these monologues on a dictaphone, sitting behind the steering wheel of his car. Agitated by the high speed, he philosophises freely about time, the state of the planet, the organization of a worldwide strike, and his own life. Tibolt carries on a striking and constant inner dialogue on the tapes with Movo, his ‘better self.’

The tirades remind us of the famous stream of consciousness in James Joyce’s Ulysses. Satink – aware of this link – speaks of a ‘scream of consciousness.’ A.F.Th lets this scream reverberate with incredible imagination and stylistic power in an explosion of language that dizzies you and leaves you waiting tensely for the following volumes.

There is not one author in the Dutch language who equals A.F.Th. in magically transforming these high-flown philosophical theories into such sparkling prose, quivering with life.

De Morgen

The Movo Tapes is a very special book, chockfull of overwhelming verbal fireworks – even if it’s primarily beginnings, promises, and announcements of what is still to come in the rest of the series.

De Groene Amsterdammer

Actually it’s shamelessly over the top, that’s plain as the nose on your face. But at the same time it is so well written, and with so much talent, that all possible objections are pushed away by all the qualities that are present in the text. A balancing act of the kind that one seldom encounters.

NRC Handelsblad

Now that all parties directly involved are dead (only Movo’s daughter Jolente is still alive), I can finally unfold the story in its entirety. For my own entertainment and that of my fellows, all of whom still possess their own name.
Movo died six months ago, just before his fiftieth birthday. Since then, Jolente has been working with two employees of the Constantijn Huygens Institute on a compilation of excerpts from her father’s impossible magnum opus God’s Poems. The book has been announced for next autumn and will be published by De Spiegel, an imprint of the Hoek Keizersgracht-Spiegelstraat publishing company. It’s been in the papers and even made the TV news. I was moved to see that Hoek had survived all the mergers and reorganisations, as well as rising illiteracy, despite years of having to cope without the free advice of Movo’s grandfather, Olle Tornij. Their offices hadn’t even moved, they were still in the old building on the corner of Keizersgracht and Spiegelstraat. It seemed that they now came under the umbrella of an even larger group: Uitgeverijen Nederland & Vlaanderen BV, soon to be subsumed within European Publishers Ltd. The “highly distinctive character? of De Spiegel’s list would not be compromised, I read. Excellent, that means that Movo’s God’s Poems will reach the public, who for the first time will be able to read a book that cannot humanly be written, it testifies to that and bears the traces of that impossibility. Wonders will never cease.


A.F.Th. van der Heijden

A.F.Th. van der Heijden (b. 1951) studied psychology and philosophy in Nijmegen, but after moving to Amsterdam he turned to writing. His first two books appeared under the pseudonym Patrizio Canaponi: the short-story collection Een gondel in de Herengracht (A Gondola in the Herengracht, 1978; Anton…

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De Movo Tapes (2003). Fiction, 715 pages.
Copies sold: 60,000

Sample translation

English (PDF document)



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