P.F. Thomése


Musical, imaginative and poetic prose

Taking into account the name of the title character, Izak would seem to form a counterpart to Thomése’s successful previous book Schaduwkind (Shadow Child, 2003), in which he tells the poignant story of his daughter Isa, who died soon after birth. In Izak, Thomése explains briefly that Izak ‘was written with the same yearning to lose myself, to wander through an impenetrable wood and thus rediscover life.’ Of course, Izak has become a completely different book – it is a fairytale told by a small boy.

The narrative is set during the Japanese occupation of the Dutch East Indies – present-day Indonesia which was a Dutch colony until 1949. Even though he is small, Izak, who comes from the island of Ambon, knows a Dutch lady who has promised to teach him how to play the piano. She has a piano in her drawing room where she regularly holds musical soirées. When she is imprisoned in a Japanese internment camp, she gives Izak the key to her house. On discovering that the piano has been stolen, he goes looking for it – a quest full of strange, fantastic and sometimes terrifying events. For example, he accompanies a group of musicians on their way to a wedding ceremony.

On arrival, they discover that the entire village has been massacred – why and by whom remains unclear. He subsequently encounters Prince Said Printah and his beautiful daughter Nesrine, which is the impulse for a whole new series of bizarre developments.

Just as in Schaduwkind, it is not only what happens in Izak that draws the reader’s attention, but rather the language which Thomése applies with musical virtuosity. The Malaysian language, which Thomése often quotes, lends itself excellently to this purpose, as does the mixed language the offspring of Dutch-Indonesian couples speak – with its many onomatopoeias, interjections, and other mixed forms. In combining these linguistic influences, Thomése creates an extremely musical, imaginative and poetic prose.

Izak is a book like a jingling xylophone. Thomése continually finds stunning new adjectives for music and sounds. He allows rain, for example, to resonate like fingers on the keys of a piano.

De Morgen


P.F. Thomése

By the time P.F. Thomése (b. 1958) won the AKO Literature Prize in 1991 for his novella collection Zuidland (Southland, 1990), he had already earned a reputation as a meticulous stylist with a sophisticated sense of humour, and an impassioned advocate of the primacy of the imagination in…

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Izak (2005). Fiction, 176 pages.



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