Author Harry Mulisch celebrates his 80th birthday on 29 July. For many years, the creator of novels like The Assault, The Discovery of Heaven and The Stone Bridal Bed has been seen as one of the great figures of Dutch literature, both in the Netherlands and beyond.Many of his books have been translated, and his works have been published in over 30 languages.
Maria Vlaar says:
“He’s one of our great writers, and has been in translation for years – especially over the past 10 years.”
Ms Vlaar is Assistant Director of the NLPVF, the Foundation for the Production and Translation of Dutch Literature. The foundation promotes Dutch authors to publishers abroad and subsidises the translation of their work. Founded in 1991, it has a wide collection of “translated Mulisch” on its shelves.
Mulisch’s most frequently translated novel is The Assault (1982), with over 30 languages. Later works, such as The Discovery of Heaven (1992), The Procedure (1998) and Siegfried (2000), are also popular. However, his earlier novels, written before the NLPVF existed, have also been translated in recent years as he has been “discovered” by foreign publishers. Ms Vlaar:
“We’ve included ‘The Stone Bridal Bed’ (1959) in our classics collection, and it works. Certainly in Germany they’re returning to all the old titles, and in other countries too. In a number of countries they’ve just started on ‘The Discovery of Heaven’, because it was so successful. There they can go back to ‘The Assault’, ‘Two Women’ or ‘The Stone Bridal Bed’. And there’s still a lot more to be published.”
In Germany Mulisch’s books are best sellers, with a quarter of a million copies printed of each edition. As Ms Vlaar points out, subsidies are no longer needed. He is also widely read in English, though less so in other languages. Nevertheless, he is still a popular author in many countries.
Mulisch’s last book to be published was Siegfried in 2000, but specially for his birthday six Dutch authors have written short stories in response to his work. One a week will be published in the run-up to the big 80th birthday party his publisher De Bezige Bij is organising for him in September.
One of the authors is Marcel Möring:
“I’ll be enlarging on a character from ‘Two Women’. It’s a book that has a place of its own in Mulisch’s oeuvre. It’s always fascinated me. Look, Mulisch is a great writer. If I get the chance to pay tribute to someone like that, I don’t want to miss it. If I can do so by writing something myself and presenting it to him, as it were, I think it’s the best possible way.”Daring
Marcel Möring sees a number of important themes in Mulisch’s work, apart from the Second World War – for example, the Latin and Greek foundations of our culture, books for boys, and science. But what he sees as more important is what lies beneath, an attempt to analyse the world through the medium of narrative. Mulisch’s work is a literary laboratory. He lays the world out on a dissecting table and tries to take it apart and put it back together again.
Möring would like to congratulate Mulisch on the breadth of his oeuvre.
“In the past year I’ve reread quite a lot of his work, from ‘Archibald Strohalm’ [his debut from 1951], ‘The Black Light’, ‘Paralipomena Orphica’, to the classic novel ‘The Assault’. It’s so incredibly broad, he’s explored so many styles. I find that fascinating, it makes him unique in post-war Dutch literature. He’s done everything and dared everything. That’s intelligent, because it’s what a writer needs to do. You have to dare to fail.”
Every year the Dutch literary world holds its breath when the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature is announced. It won’t be Harry Mulisch, will it? There are some who have an aversion to the self-willed, laconic and somewhat guarded author. For that matter, no one actually expects the Nobel Committee to have any Dutch candidate in mind for the coveted award.
Marcel Möring is irritated by this trivialising attitude. He thinks Mulisch wouldn’t be at all out of place on the list of prize winners. If Dario Fo has won it, or last year the Turkish author Orhan Pamuk, a man who’s written one good novel…? He can think of a few of Mulisch’s books he would judge to be better.
Outside the Netherlands too, Mulisch is considered to be one of the great European writers, says Maria Vlaar of the NLPVF. When author John Updike reviewed The Discovery of Heaven in The New Yorker, he compared him to greats like James Joyce, Umberto Eco and Thomas Mann.
Mrs Vlaar regularly accompanies Mulisch during his literary appearances abroad.
“In this country, people might not take it seriously when we say he deserves a Nobel prize, but abroad they think it’s perfectly normal. He’s always being heralded as the main candidate for the Nobel prize, without any irony at all. It’s good to see that in other countries he has such stature.”
For more information: radionetherlands.nl