Award-winning Dutch author Adriaan van Dis has written numerous best sellers. In 2004 he moved to Paris, the setting for his contribution for Radio Books where a man receives two unexpected visitors from the Vatican.
Adriaan van Dis was born in Bergen aan Zee in 1946, shortly after his family returned to Holland from Indonesia. He studied Dutch and Afrikaans in Amsterdam and wrote his graduate thesis on the South African poet Breyten Breytenbach.
In 1974 he began to write regularly for the culture section of the Dutch newspaper the NRC Handelsblad. But he became most well known as host of his own literary television programme “Here is… Adriaan van Dis” which was broadcast from 1983 to 1992 and won the Nipkowschijf prize.
Between two cultures
His first book “Nathan Sid” was published in 1983 and won the Golden Dog-Ear prize for best-selling literary debut. It’s the story of a boy growing up between two cultures: the paradise of colonial Indonesia and the drabness of the Netherlands after the Second World War. His family’s Indonesian background would also play a role in his later novels. From the mid-1980’s to the mid 1990’s van Dis wrote two short story collections, several plays and travel books based on his trips to China and Africa.
‘Indische duinen’ (My Father’s War) published in 1994 was his most successful book. In it he explores his complex relationship with his cruel soldier father who died when he was a boy. Reviewers called it a superbly written, merciless autobiographical novel. Van Dis was awarded the 1995 Golden Owl and the Trouw Public’s prize for the book which sold over 300,000 copies. It has been translated into numerous languages including English.
He carried on the autobiographical thread in his 2002 novel ‘Familieziek’ (Family Fray) in turns both melancholy and humorous. In 2004 van Dis moved to Paris, the setting of his latest novel ‘De wandelaar’ (The Walker). This powerful, socially aware novel is about a Dutch man living in Paris and leading a solitary existence when he witnesses a dramatic fire in a building occupied by illegal immigrants and transients. As a man committed to the idea of ‘doing a little good,’ his ideals are no match for a city teeming with unrest and racial hatred.
Humanism and the Church
Near the end of the book, the man confronts a priest: “I know your hellfire and damnation sermon: blood and woe be upon us. We need to do a better job of sharing, and if we don’t, our egotism will be our undoing. Sooner or later we’ll have to pay the price. But greed can’t be prayed away, it’s in our genes… Globalization has come about as a result of our greed and can no longer be stopped. The whole world already watches the same soap operas. Progress shapes us all in the same mould…”
In his Radio Books story, a humanist vision also takes on the Catholic church when a man is surprised by an unexpected message from two emissaries from the Vatican.
“I was afraid, they said, and that was understandable. It took courage. But I couldn’t turn down this request. I could be a pioneer, show cynics a perspective other than materialism and consumerism. I spoke the cynics’ language, knew their media and could win over thousands. Millions!… After centuries of murder and killing, wouldn’t it be a fine thing if we could obey a higher law? …A law with one simple message: people should respect each other’s dignity.”
‘Pope Dream’ by Adriaan van Dis 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.