'A Brief History of Deceit' by Herman Koch

RNW archive

This article is part of the RNW archive. RNW is the former Radio Netherlands Worldwide or Wereldomroep, which was founded as the Dutch international public broadcaster in 1947. In 2011, the Dutch government decided to cut funding and shift RNW from the ministry of Education, Culture and Science to the ministry of Foreign Affairs. More information about RNW Media’s current activities can be found at https://www.rnw.org/about-rnw-media.

The latest novel by Herman Koch has remained on Dutch best seller lists for more than seven months. His humorous Radio Books story might reveal why he is one of the most popular writers in the Netherlands.



Herman Koch was born in Arnhem in 1953 but moved to Amsterdam with his family at the age of two. He has studied Russian and worked for a year on a farm in Finland. He has lived in London and now resides in Spain and Amsterdam.

Koch made his literary debut in 1985 with a collection of stories called ‘De voorbijganger’ (The Passerby) about several misunderstood loners. Four years later he published his first novel ‘Red ons, Maria Montinelli’ (Save Us, Maria Montinelli.) Based on his experience of a Montessori school education in Amsterdam and written in a style reminiscent of J.D. Salinger, the book was a huge success.

Film and television

With director Otakar Votocek, Koch co-wrote the screenplay for the 1990 film ‘Wings of Fame’ which starred Peter O’Toole and Colin Firth. The same year he began appearing on Dutch television in the popular comedy series Jiskefet (Friesian for ‘ashtray’) which ran for fifteen years. Koch continued to publish short stories, novels and collections of columns he wrote for the Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant.

Koch’s latest novel ‘Het Diner’ (The Dinner) has remained on Dutch best-seller lists since it was published at the beginning of 2009 and Hollywood producers have expressed interest in the book. The story explores a contemporary moral dilemma about honesty when two couples meet in a restaurant to discuss their children’s involvement in a serious crime. How far will a father go to protect his son? The answer is very far, indeed.

Truth and lies

In his Radio Books story, Koch continues to explore the complicated boundaries between truth and lies, fact and fiction, reality and the creative imagination.

“…Thus I learnt at the age of five, without being entirely aware of it at the time, the most important lesson a writer sooner or later has to learn: that the truth and a plausible lie go hand in glove, and that a plausible lie is far preferable to an implausible truth.”

‘A Brief History of Deceit’ by Herman Koch was translated by Michael Blass. The story is read by David Swatling.

The series Radio Books is an initiative of the Flemish-Dutch Huis de Buren in Brussels, in association with the Flemish radio broadcaster Klara and Radio Netherlands Worldwide.