Michael Frijda


Poetic and enigmatic

Frijda’s Ritselingen (Rustling) is a mysterious novel about identity and origin. The complex family history of the book closely resembles a fairy tale – not only because the events take place in a forest but also because, for example, there is no dialogue, rather a lyrical use of language which gives the story its intrinsic beauty.

Equally fairytale-like and archaic is the profession of one of the many nameless main characters – a woodcutter who lives on the edge of the forest with his son Karel. The son is crippled and asks his father for a deer, preferably a live one. (But this is no Bambi-like story; Frijda gives Disney sentimentality a wide berth.) The woodcutter’s mother, who seems right out of a Grimms’ fairy tale, lives isolated in the middle of the forest.

The woodcutter’s father is a poacher and also appears to have stepped straight out of an old folk tale. The scenes evoked in Ritselingen are oppressive and yet stimulating at the same time. Frijda gradually ratchets up the tension into a dense web of intriguing, hidden relationships between the various characters. The Second World War, for instance, plays a role from the start in the background, and this comes more to the fore with the appearance of a collaborating cheese-maker and a Jewish refugee who’s hiding in the forest. In the first chapter, Frijda gives a marvellous description of her flight – an escape that may be linked to the other two main female characters, such as the cheesemaker’s daughter who runs away from home at the end of the story to be with Karel in the forest.

The latent erotic tension of the novel erupts at their meeting in an extremely sensual scene, in which Frijda unfolds the whole gamut of attraction and repulsion, tenderness and aggression, and shows the merging of one lover’s identity with the other. The enigma is intensified since the two are unaware of their origins, whereas the reader, conscious of the secret, is left astonished.

Frijda applies a mathematic directness in his approach to family history, which makes Ritselingen an original and fascinating book in terms of composition and content. It offers a new perspective on family history. A breath of fresh air.

Het Parool

Ritselingen recalls John Berger’s trilogy on the farmers in the French Alps, and the Icelandic novels of Halldór Laxness. Country people and their strong passions against a backdrop of overwhelming nature – these become extremely attractive material in skilful hands.


Michael Frijda

Michael Frijda (b. 1961) worked for years as a bargee on the inland waterways and on tour boats in the Amsterdam canals. 1998 witnessed the publication of his story collection Schrikdieren (Feral Frights). A year later he received the Rabo-bank Lente Award for his story Tekening (Drawing). The…

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Ritselingen (2005). Fiction, 245 pages.

Sample translation

English (PDF document)



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