Adriaan van Dis

Tik Kop

Good intentions gone bad

After a forty year absence, Mr Mulder – a character from Van Dis’ previous novel, an introvert full of good intentions, none of which seem appreciated – returns to the country that is part of his history: South Africa. In the early seventies, he and his friend Donald were involved in opposing the Apartheid regime. It was a time in which there was room for ideals, for romance. He fell in love with the beautiful activist Catherine, whom he never saw again after she was sent to prison.

Donald invites him for a visit and, because he feels like he can do with some distraction, he flies to South Africa, moving in to a run-down holiday home in a quiet spot on the Cape. The situation has changed, apartheid is over, but poverty, a sense of insecurity as well as a lack in mutual understanding are on the increase. The rich whites have withdrawn to heavily guarded homes high on the dunes, the fishing village below is inhabited by poor blacks with disillusioned, drug addicted children.

Hendrik is one of them. He’s a fatherless village boy, addicted to crystal meth, called ‘tik’ locally. Mulder finds him on the streets with a broken arm and takes him to the hospital, but the boy is resigned to his fate. On his walks through the village, the Dutchman tries to break the ice with the locals but, despite all his good intentions, he comes up against a wall of mistrust. Meanwhile, he and Donald reminisce about their friendship, in probing and deeply emotional conversations.

Compactly, picturesquely, Van Dis depicts the adventures of two exceptional men who are bound up with a country they both love and hate. The ideals they once fought are embodied in the paternal way they both take care of tik kop Hendrik, who, in the end, literally steals away like a thief in the night and backstabs his helpers. This novel shows convincingly, and alarmingly, the divisions of a country and the impossibility of ever coming to terms with the past.

Tikkop is more vivid, more profound and more humorous than could ever be captured in a thousand-word review. Adriaan van Dis’s prose is scintillating. Each new book appears to mark yet another growth spurt for this writer. Van Dis’s greatest charm lies in his matter-of-fact language. He is the Netherlands’ very own Graham Greene, a writer-traveller who used distant lands as a focal point for moral issues and in so doing got to the heart of the matter.

NRC Handelsblad

Tikkop is hugely compelling thanks to the action-packed anecdotes, subtle symbolism, authentic characters and above all Van Dis’ stylistic prowess – the man can write.

Vrij Nederland

Van Dis offers no easy answers. And there aren’t any. But he has poured his efforts to get to grips with the country that has long fascinated him into a light-hearted and gripping story.



Adriaan van Dis

Adriaan van Dis (b. 1946) was raised in the Dutch town of Bergen along with his half-sisters, the children of parents with an Indonesian background, traumatised by war. He debuted in 1983 with the novella Nathan Sid. After making a name for himself as a travel writer with books such as Het beloofde

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Tikkop (2010). Fiction, 224 pages.



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