(Netherlands, 1951) descends from a former plantation-owning family in the Dutch East Indies. His father is Indonesian-Chinese and his mother is Dutch. Recurring themes in his work include alienation from family and the inability to identify with one's mother- or fatherland. His 1987 debut novel was Tamara's Lunapark. He compiled an anthology of Dutch colonial and post-colonial literature, East-Indian Ink, in 1998. In 2002 Indische Gezichten was published, a compilation of his Dutch post-colonial novels Vogels rond een vrouw (Birds around a Woman, 1991) and De onschuld van een vis (The Innocence of a Fish, 1995). These books create an unforgettable portrait of his father. His successful autobiographical novel De tolk van Java (The Interpreter from Java, 2016) received multiple awards and was adapted for theatre.(WN 2020)
Archive available for: Alfred Birney
Letters from Overseas
In 1795, the once-enslaved but later freed Wilhelmina Kelderman sent a heartbreaking letter from Paramaribo to her former master. The letter never arrived, as it was on a ship hijacked by the English, ended up in an archive, and was only opened two centuries later.
Writers Unlimited festival asked nine authors to write a letter to someone in a (former) colony, inspired by Wilhelmina's entreaty, and to present it at this event. They will recite them in their mother tongue or preferred language of writing; English or Dutch translations will be simultaneously projected.
Participants are Antjie Krog (South Africa), Alfred Birney, Reggie Baay, Ellen Deckwitz, Rosabelle Illes (Aruba), Jolyn Phillips (South Africa), Jasper Albinus, poet Angelina Enny (Indonesia) and poet, musician and theatre maker Robin Block.
Tip: Antjie Krog, Reggie Baay, Ellen Deckwitz and Jolyn Phillips will also read from their contributions to the 25th anniversary Winternachten festival anthology during the Opening Night - A Free Mind on Wednesday, 15 January at Theater aan het Spui.
War in The Dutch East-Indies - with Alfred Birney and Hans Goedkoop
With: Alfred Birney, Hans Goedkoop, Paul van der Gaag
A programme - in Dutch - on the role of Dutch fathers and grandfathers in the Indonesian war of independence in the late fourties of the past century. Alfred Birney wrote a novel on the history of his father, who was a spy, informer, bodyguard and murderer, fighting for the Dutch. Birney tells that story, but also what happened after the war, in his bad relationship with his father. Hans Goedkoop reconstructed the history of his grandfather who was a high ranking officer in the Dutch army in that same war of independance. He was the man who arrested Soekarno, the first president of the Republic of Indonesia. After the war, the story of his grandfather 'fell through the hole of history'. Moderator was Paul van der Gaag (VPRO O.v.t.).
Dutch spoken. A programme made by Ton van de Langkruis (Writers Unlimited). Bookselling by Van Stockum.
Oost-Indische Inkt is the title of anthology of Dutch East-Indian literature. It was published in 1998. Anthologist Alfred Birney discussed the choices he made, from Multatuli to Marion Bloem. He spoke to Michaël Zeeman and Kester Freriks, writer and critic. Freriks invited two 'Indian' writers: Aya Zikken (whose work was part of the anthology), and Jill Stolk, whose work is not represented in the anthology. Both writers read from their work.