Essays on Contemporary Dutch Literature

Migration – Identity Negotiation – Cultural memory

by Marco Prandoni (Author)
©2022 Monographs 160 Pages


Dutch culture continues to attract curiosity and interest worldwide, even more so now
that many are puzzled by the shifting image of the Netherlands in the 21st century: from
a country with a long-established progressive tradition and of diffuse cosmopolitanism
to a polarized country where a part of the public opinion reverts to nationalism and
The book examines contemporary Dutch literature, both fiction and nonfiction, that
raises topical themes and preoccupations and documents as much as shapes the discursive
formations in society around migration, diasporic identity and the cultural
memory of colonialism, slave trade and coal mining. Transnationally oriented authors
tackle these issues in ways that appear relevant to a global audience.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Foreword
  • Introduction
  • 1. A Fairy Tale (in a Conference)
  • 1 Scheherazade at the White House: Abdelkader Benali
  • 2 World literature, translation, and adaptation
  • 3 Global violence: Fanaticism and sacrifice
  • 4 The autobiographical element: Cultural models and the power of literature
  • 5 Epilogue
  • 2. Poetry: Identity Negotiations and Performances
  • 1 Migrant 1.0
  • 2 The Song Dies in Your Throat: Mustafa Stitou
  • 3 Our Fathers
  • 4 The performances of a Luciferian poet
  • 3. Fiction (I): Fictionalizing Public and Private Dramas
  • 1 A collective psychodrama
  • 2 A Berber family tragedy in the Hague: Hans Sahar
  • 3 I want to stay where I have never been: Naima El Bezaz
  • 4. Fiction (II): Physical Migration and Identity Quest
  • 1 These Are the Names: Tommy Wieringa
  • 2 East/West
  • 3 Traumatic landscapes and traumatized societies
  • 4 Encounters, relationships, and performances
  • 5. Nonfiction (I): First-Person Narration, World Curiosity, and a Social Biography of the Netherlands
  • 1 Stories and things: Frank Westerman
  • 2 From self-writing to a social biography of the Netherlands
  • 3 ‘El Negro’, Westerman, and the Netherlands
  • 4 A calling to write
  • 6. Cultural Post-Memory (I): ‘My’ Mining Past
  • 1 The cultural (post)-memory of coal mining in Dutch Limburg
  • 2 Literary nonfiction
  • 3 Wiel Kusters and Marcia Luyten
  • 7. Cultural Post-Memory (II): Colonial Multilingualism and Postcolonial Heterolingualism
  • 1 Dutch Indies literature 2.0
  • 2 The Interpreter from Java: Alfred Birney
  • 3 The father’s multilingualism and the figure of the interpreter
  • 4 The translator in the text: From multilingualism to heterolingualism
  • 5 Translating traumatic memory
  • 6 ‘I will stop now’
  • Index

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The interest in Dutch literature is growing abroad – very prominently in Italy where I live. Among others, books from the so-called diasporic, postcolonial Low Countries are finding their way to an international audience. Dutch culture continues to attract curiosity and interest worldwide, even more so now that many are puzzled by the shifting image of the Netherlands in the 21st century: from a country with a long-established progressive tradition and of diffuse cosmopolitanism to a polarized country where a part of the public opinion is afraid of the ‘Islamization’ of society and reverts to nationalism and isolationism. What also shocked some international, especially American, liberal observers was the commotion around the folkloric figure of Black Pete (Zwarte Piet), rooted in the imagery of slavery, betraying a still persistent denial of racial discrimination and its ties to slavery and colonialism in the (self-)narrative of the Netherlands as a predominantly tolerant and progressive nation. The so-called Dutch multicultural drama – a term used in a famous essay by Paul Scheffer at the dawn of the new millennium (Het multiculturele drama, NRC Handelsblad, 29 January 2000) – stills awaits to be fully critically tackled for an international audience, from the perspective of literature and literary/cultural studies.

The chapters in this book examine various Dutch literary texts published in the first two decades of the twenty-first century: poems dealing with cultural criticism; novels fictionalizing the crisis of the multicultural model – in the first place the assassination of film director Theo van Gogh – and dealing with migration, diasporic identity, and trauma; and nonfiction on the still largely misrecognized legacies of slave trade, colonialism, and coal-mining. These works raise topical themes and preoccupations and document as much as shape the discursive formations in contemporary Dutch society around issues of identity negotiation and performance and cultural (post)-memory of traumas, especially those connected to colonialism and postcolonial migration.

The contemporary authors discussed in this book are mostly transnationally oriented and some of them share a migration/diasporic background. Their literary products often cross boundaries: They have been translated into several languages and are part of a transnational body of ←9 | 10→texts. They thus participate in world literature, refract international literary trends – such as the ‘hypermodern’ urgency to mediate and negotiate problematic issues with a fluid combination of fiction, nonfiction, and autofiction – and actively engage in them. The authors tackle global issues from a specifically Dutch viewpoint and engage in the heightened discursivity of themes which appear relevant to a global audience.

I am grateful to the colleagues in the Dutch Studies in Italy for their support, to the students of Dutch in Bologna for their critical feedback during the classes, to the anonymous reviewers for their feedback, and to David Colmer for sharing his beautiful translations.

Bologna, February 2022

The chapters collected in this book were originally published in Italian and have been thoroughly revised, actualized, and integrated. I warmly thank Pàtron Editore and I Libri di Emil/Odoya for permission to republish them.

Unless otherwise stated, translations from Dutch are by the author.

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In 2009 Ramsey Nasr – since 2004 the city poet of Antwerp, in Flanders, where he had been previously working as playwright and actor as well – was elected poet laureate (Dichter des vaderlands) of the Netherlands. He returned to his country to take on a position of great symbolic meaning at a historical moment in which the radicalization of public debate regarding the crisis of the multicultural model made questioning what Netherlands’ national identity (in linguistic and cultural terms) is almost an obsession. Compared to Antwerp, this was a much greater commitment, which put him in the spotlight and under media pressure, in the midst of thorny political and social matters. The poetic work from his early years, collected in 2009 as well,1 then reached a turning point.


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2022 (June)
Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2022. 160 pp.

Biographical notes

Marco Prandoni (Author)

Marco Prandoni lectures in Dutch studies at the University of Bologna, Italy. His research examines intercultural dynamics in early modern drama and contemporary culture, with a specific focus on migration-related issues and cultural memory.


Title: Essays on Contemporary Dutch Literature