Under a Different Sky

A meditation on homesickness and the eternal longing

From a young age, philosopher and writer Joke H. Hermsen has wrestled with the longing to be elsewhere – a kind of ‘farsickness’, from the German 'fernweh', which has gone paired with never quite feeling at home. When, during the pandemic, the feeling rises to a crescendo in her own house, she packs her bags. But everywhere she goes – from France to the Netherlands to Germany – memories wash over her.

Original title
Onder een andere hemel. Over heimwee en vertepijn
Joke J. Hermsen

As Hermsen tries to make sense of her unrest, she reaches for the thinkers and poets who have most influenced her: Hannah Arendt, Maya Angelou, Rainer Maria Rilke, Lou Salomé, bell hooks, Friedrich Hölderlin, Simone Weil and Ingeborg Bachmann. Being at home, she discovers, also means being at home in time. In the end, she must face a memory of sexual assault as a teenager – the moment she suddenly felt she had no one to speak to in her family home.

For Hermsen, heimwee, closest to the English word ‘homesickness’, is not just about having a home or not, it’s equally about how, in the development of your identity, you can be encouraged or confined by feelings of not belonging. This emotion also comprises a desire for the past and a coming to terms with memories. It can be triggered by the passage of time, and thus assail you anywhere.

Hermsen mixes these insights with reflections on Europe’s political present – the pandemic as well as the climate and refugee crisis – readily acknowledging that it’s a privilege to only feel homeless on an existential level, while enjoying a house, passport and chance at a secure future.

  • A philosophical and personal exploration of our alternate longings for the familiar and the unknown

  • On finding a home in literature, memory and political solidarity

  • The author sold more than 150,000 copies of her work in the Netherlands

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Nikki Verkerk
Sample translation available

Hermsen draws the reader into her emotional world with many striking descriptions. They make the theoretical reflections relevant, of personal interest even.

De Standaard

Hermsen links her reflections on homesickness to interludes on the climate, migration and the fates of refugees. When talking about political displacement, the question of “how to be at home in the world” suddenly becomes a very different one.

De Groene Amsterdammer
Joke J. Hermsen
The writer Joke J. Hermsen (b. 1961) is one of the most prominent Dutch philosophers of her generation. She has a particular interest in time, memory and art, and has written extensively about the philosophy of Hannah Arendt, Ernst Bloch and Lou Andreas Salomé.
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