BLOG: Remembering Dutch Decolonization through Historical Fiction [Imperial & Global Forum]

Marc-William Palen's picture

Paul Doolan
Zurich International School and the University of Konstanz

On May 8th the jury of the Libris Literature Prize announced in Amsterdam and live on television that they had unanimously chosen Alfred Birney as winner of the best Dutch language novel of 2016, for his novel De Tolk van Java [The Interpreter from Java]. According to the jury, Birney has “cast a new light upon a poisonous period of our history“. The book is a relentlessly violent postmemory novel and a searing indictment of not only Dutch colonial brutality, but also the willingness of a society to forget or unremember the uncomfortable parts of the nation’s past. Birney’s work forms a corrective to many historical myths regarding the decolonization of the Dutch East Indies.

In recent years we have seen Dutch courts finding the Dutch state guilty of massacring hundreds of civilians in Indonesia during the Indonesian War of Liberation (1945-1949). In 2016 Remy Limpach’s historical thesis, that the Dutch political and military leadership at the time had been responsible for the use of structural violence that amounted to war crimes, was well received in both the popular press as well as among academics. Last month’s decision of the jury of the Libris Literature Prize marks another milestone in the Dutch coming to terms with their past by working through the trauma of decolonization. [continue reading at the Imperial & Global Forum]