The World's Best Unknown Books
09 10 2012

A Family Saga in Indonesia

The Ten Thousand Things Maria Dermoût

Translation Hans Koning

A consummate stylist, Maria Dermoût is renowned for leaving her readers with final sentences that resonate with hope and consolation. She invests her characters with strength and self-awareness, in the full knowledge that while life can be unjust it is still worth living, and she writes in prose so sensual and vivid that you can almost inhabit the world she describes.

Each of Dermoût’s sentences came at me like a soft knowing dagger, depicting a far-off land that felt to me like the blood of all the places I used to love.

Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild

When Felicia is sent away to be educated in the Netherlands as a young girl, her grandmother gives her a bracelet, ‘This is for you. Make sure you come back with it.’ Felicia does exactly that. She returns with her son and without a husband to the remote island in the Dutch East Indies where her grandmother still lives. There Felicia finds herself wedded to an uncanny and dangerous world, full of mystery and violence, where objects tell tales, the dead come and go, and the past is as potent as the future.

Felicia’s son falls in love with a woman who already has a child and he joins the army, only to have his life cruelly cut short. Even in her grief, Felicia continues to believe in her grandmother’s simple wisdom: see the beauty, see the ten thousand things around you.

Dermoût interweaves the various elements of her subtle novel to over- whelming effect: there is something intrinsically Asian about her mesmeric style and powerful use of repetition. Events are told and retold from differing perspectives, since that is how human beings learn about themselves and the world.

At the end of the novel, Felicia sits alone on her veranda. She does this one day each year, to meet her departed loved ones, to talk with them and to try to come to terms with the brutal death of her son. Her servants call her inside as evening falls. ‘Then the lady of the Small Garden whose name was Felicia stood up from her chair obediently and without looking around at the inner bay in the moonlight – it would remain there, always – she went with them, under the trees and indoors, to drink her cup of coffee and try again to go on living.’


Dermoût’s The Ten Thousand Things appeared in the 2015 autumn/Frankfurt Book Fair issue of 10 Books from Holland, a magazine published by the Dutch Foundation for Literature. For translation rights please contact Ms Jolijn Spooren at Querido | Singel Publishers, j.spooren@singeluitgeverijen.

“Maria Dermoût has done something better than any other Dutch writer before or since: as non-Indonesian she has given voice to that country, depicted the nature of its peoples, and illustrated their diverse cultures.” – Hella S. Haasse, author of The Tea Lords

“Mrs Dermoût, in the manner of Thoreau and the early Hemingway, is an extraordinary sensualist. But her approach is not the muzzy, semi-poetic one in which the writer damagingly affixes his own imagination to what he sees. Instead, her instinct for beauty results, again and again, in passages of a startling, unadorned, three-dimensional clarity; often one can almost touch what she describes.” – Whitney Balliett, The New Yorker

New York Review Books
Original language
Original title
De Tienduizend Dingen (1955)
Earlier in these languages
English, Swedish, Spanish, Italian, Indonesian, Icelandic, German, French, Danish, Chinese, Arabic.
10 Books from Holland by Dutch Foundation for Literature (2015)

Available as
ISBN 9781590170137
224 pages
$ 14,95