The World's Best Unknown Books
04 04 2010

The Dark Side of a Father-Son Relationship

Character Ferdinand Bordewijk

Those who met Ferdinand Bordewijk described him as an impeccable yet nondescript lawyer. Even the few acquaintances he deigned to meet privately found it almost impossible to extract personal statements from him and, when interviewed about his literary work, he spoke of its writer in the third person, as if talking about someone else altogether. Bordewijk’s writing must have fulfilled a compensatory function in his life.

Character is nothing less than a masterpiece. I have read it once again and it remains a very impressive book, still topical after forty years

J.A. Dautzenberg, de Volkskrant.

With his solid, violent style, Bordewijk indulged urges which had no place in his daily routine. As a lawyer he was all too aware of the consequences of giving in to temptation. Character, his most famous novel, tells the story of Katadreuffe, a clerk who is struggling to work his way up in society. He opens a small tobacconist’s, only to be made bankrupt by the formidable Rotterdam bailiff Dreverhaven – his own father. Every time success is within reach, his father blocks him.

When Katadreuffe finally achieves his great ambition of becoming a lawyer, he refuses to shake his father’s hand: crying that he won’t accept congratulations from a father who has ‘worked against him’ his whole life. Slowly, clearly, in a hoarse but gentle voice, Dreverhaven says: ‘Or worked for you.’ A masterly story of the dark side of the father-son relationship and, at the same time, a portrait of pre-war Rotterdam where the drama is set. The expeditions in which Dreverhaven lives up to his frightening reputation, evicting the poor from their hovels, have a gruesome magnificence, with Bordewijk showing the bestial side of his human characters and giving houses and lanes anthropomorphic characteristics. Horror lurks everywhere and Bordewijk’s language – except in its lighter moments – is as merciless as the unforgettably villainous bailiff.

The film of Character won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film of the year in 1998.

Contact translation rights:

Patricia de Groot,
Em. Querido’s Uitgeverij B.V.
Singel 262
1016 AC Amsterdam
Tel: 0031 20 55 11 262

Ivan R. Dee
Original language
Original title
Karakter (1938)
Earlier in these languages
Chinese, German, Norwegian, Hungarian, Slowakian, Turkish and many other languages.
Kirkus Reviews (1990)
Constantijn Huygens Award (1957)

Available as
ISBN 1566632277
288 Pages
$ 14.49
ISBN 0941533964
286 Pages
$ 7.89