[Saturday Reads] A Dutch Colonialist Perspective on The Spice Islands Natives by Maria Dermoût


Myra here.

Every Saturday we hope to share with you our thoughts on reading and books. We thought that it would be good practice to reflect on our reading lives and our thoughts about reading in general. While on occasion, we would feature a few books in keeping with this, there would be a few posts where we will just write about our thoughts on read-alouds, libraries, reading journals, upcoming literary conferences, books that we are excited about, and just book love miscellany in general.

The Ten Thousand Things [Amazon | Book Depository]

Written by Maria Dermoût Translated and Introduced by Hans Koning Published by NYRB Classics (2002, first published in 1955) Original Title: De tienduizend dingen ISBN: 9781590170137 (ISBN10: 159017013X) Bought a copy of the book. Book photos taken by me.

This novel was our December #NYRBBookClub pick over at Litsy, founded by Scott (@vivastory) and co-hosted in December by @Liz_M. The blurb itself already “exoticizes” Indonesia, this “far-off place”:

The Ten Thousand Things is a novel of shimmering strangeness – the story of Felicia, who returns with her baby son from Holland to the Spice Islands of Indonesia, to the house and garden that were her birthplace, over which her powerful grandmother still presides. There Felicia finds herself wedded to an uncanny and dangerous world, full of mystery and violence, where objects tell tales, the dead come and go, and the past is as potent as the present.

First published in Holland in 1955, Maria Dermoût’s novel was immediately recognized as a magical work, like nothing else Dutch – or European – literature had seen before. The Ten Thousand Things is an entranced vision of a far-off place that is as convincingly real and intimate as it is exotic, a book that is at once a lament and an ecstatic ode to nature and life.

I was reminded of a Half-Dutch, Half-Filipino friend of mine who told me that Southeast Asians are considered “forbidden fruits” in Europe.

Dermoût’s bio indicates that she was born in the Dutch East Indies but was educated in Holland.

She then returned to the Indies with her husband, a jurist, and spent thirty years living in, she later wrote, ‘every town and wilderness of the islands of Java, Celebes, and the Moluccas.’

She published Ten Thousand Things when she was 67 years old. The novel clearly demonstrates her gravitational pull towards the island and what she perceives to be its strangenesses and beauty – laced with danger – and she told the story with a magical realism bent to it.

Here were some of the questions asked during our book club discussion last December:

Given our reading theme, I would just share my response to question #4 which asks: “Is this book a colonial novel? What aspects of colonialism are represented? Or, how does it transcend being a representation of colonialism?”

I took a screenshot of the response before and after mine – just to provide some sort of context to our discussion.

This novel only made me want to read even more the novels from Indonesia written by Indonesian authors that are waiting to be read on my shelves:

Beauty Is A Wound by Eka Kurniawan (Amazon | Book Depository)

The Rainbow Troops by Andrea Hirata (Amazon | Book Depository)

It would be interesting to read the colonial story of the Dutch in Indonesia from the lens of the local people rather than from the gaze of the colonizer.

Here are the two other books that we will be discussing in January and February of this year:

January #NYRBBookClub Pick: In The Freud Archives by Janet Malcolm (Amazon | Book Depository)

February #NYRBBookClub Pick: Katalin Street by Magda Szabo translated by Len Rix (Amazon | Book Depository) – I will be co-hosting this book with Scott @vivastory.

#DecolonizeBookshelves2022 Update: 10 out of target 100

January 29, 2022 at 06:30AM Myra Garces-Bacsal