Due to a Tender Skin

A literary classic about love and the way we rebel against our own vulnerability

Few things are more affecting than a lonely twelve-year-old catching a girl’s eye and falling in love at first sight. Anton Koolhaas situates this story full of clumsiness and yearning for the future in a setting shaped by the past. The result is a confrontation the reader will never forget.

Anton Koolhaas
Original title
Vanwege een tere huid

Twelve-year-old Jokke sees Takkie, a girl his age, sitting in her window every day. He dreams of her – when she’s standing in front of him one day, he is dumb-founded. What follows is an outing in a canoe that fills to the brim with shyness and misunderstandings and yet doesn’t tip over. Koolhaas’ prose is always lyrical, but never pretentious. He puts the two young people under an early spring sun – without heat, but full of promise.

With the same loving detail, Koolhaas portrays the life of two hudnas – fictitious, beaver-like animals that live off the fish they ingeniously catch in a river delta further downstream. The two animals, Lussel and Twenna are their names, are very instinctive in everything they do, and all too human in their longing for warm Africa, where they were born. Koolhaas’ universe is characterised by gentle irony, great feeling and a sense of powerles-ness. There is no malice here, just regret and ineptitude. In the end, the storylines of the children and the animals converge, when Jokke ends up in the animals’ territory – with fatal consequences. Here, Koolhaas writes one of the most poignant lines in Dutch literature: ‘Very dead, if only just so.’ In Due to a Tender Skin, Koolhaas shows how a writer can use a seemingly small story to explore the major themes of human existence with remarkable subtlety.

Publishing details
Vanwege een tere huid (1973)
176 pages
33,000 words
200,000 copies sold

Van Oorschot
Mark Pieters

Stella Rieck

Translated titles (selection)
Dierenverhalen (Der dünne Pelz des Bären Burlót. Tiergeschichten): Germany (Luchterhand, 1996). De geluiden van de eerste dag (Die Stimmen des ersten Tages): Germany (Luchterhand, 1999).

Sample Translation

A writer with a bizarre imagination, highly versatile, with an irreverentirony and impressive restraint. Due to a Tender Skin is undoubtedly Koolhaas’ most accomplished book.

Het Parool

I discovered Koolhaas last year. I read Due to a Tender Skin, which turned out to be a forgotten masterpiece, a ten-out-of-ten.

Peter Buwalda

Perhaps I’m basing this too much on the immediacy of the emotions in this book, but I believe this is Koolhaas’ best work yet. His most affecting work, too. And most terrible – because, as he writes in this book, one’s first love is a gift from the devil.

de Volkskrant

More Fiction

B. Carrot

A Way Out

Magda is a young teacher at a primary school in Warsaw. She is caring, kind, responsible and has her life in order. But then she gets pregnant. The pregnancy is unwanted, but abortion is illegal in Poland. The subject is so controversial in Poland’s conservative political climate that it’s hard to talk about, even with her friends and family. The only person she is able to confide in is her sister.

Joost de Vries

Higher Powers

It’s the early decades of the 20th century. James Welmoed is too British for his Dutch school – just like he’ll be too Dutch for London later in life. In 1930s Indonesia, he is an inscrutable member of the colonial establishment. No one knows what to make of him – including Elisabeth van Elsenburg, an eighteen-year-old so witty she could only be the brainchild of an author with a keen intellect and boundless dexterity. She’ll grow up to be a writer, but first she embarks on a love affair with Welmoed which, even though it will be cut short, will shape both their lives.

Daan Heerma van Voss

No Goodbye Today

‘Someone is already going to die in this chapter,’ the nameless narrator cautions on the very first page of No Goodbye Today. En route to his holiday destination, Oskar van Bohemen collapses at Schiphol Airport, which turns out to be a place of departure in more ways than one. From there, we follow his three grown children, who each had their own difficult relationship with him and experience his death in very different ways.

Thomas Rosenboom

Public Works

'Public Works' is written in a florid style, highly appropriate to the historical period of its setting: the late 19th century. Rosenboom‘s stately prose lends to his novels that slow-moving tempo so essential to their effectiveness, it is this tempo with which the plot unfolds which enables the reader to see disaster coming long before the novel ends, making you want to call out to the characters, to warn them that they are making a terrible mistake.

Anton Koolhaas
As well as animal stories, Anton Koolhaas (1912-1992) wrote novels and film scripts. He is the father of the famous architect Rem Koolhaas.
Part ofFiction
Share page