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Jan Brokken

Jan Brokken - foto: Jelmer de Haas
Jan Brokken - foto: Jelmer de Haas

(Leyden, 1949) is one of the most prominent figures in Dutch literary non-fiction. He has also gained international recognition with works such as Baltische zielen (Baltic Souls) en De rechtvaardigen (The Righteous). His writings have been translated into 23 languages, among which English, German, French, Italian, Spanish, Danish, Swedish, Chinese and Russian. His two most recent books are set in former Dutch East Indies, where both of his parents lived and were held captive in Japanese internment camps during the war: De tuinen van Buitenzorg (The Gardens of Buitenzorg, 2021) and De Kampschilders (The Camp Painters, 2022). In September 2023, Brokken was honored with the Golden Quill Award for his entire body of work. Brokken studied journalism in Utrecht and political science in Bordeaux. After a career in journalism (including roles at Trouw and HP/De Tijd), Brokken decided to dedicate himself fully to his writing in 1986. His debut, the adapted novel De provincie (The province, 1984), had already been published by that time. He has since produced over thirty-five titles - a mix of fiction and non-fiction - in which he unveils the histories of countries he has visited, from Africa and the Caribbean to Indonesia.

(WU 2024)

Archive available for: Jan Brokken

  • Jan Brokken en Ellen Deckwitz

    De kampschilders - Ellen Deckwitz in conversation with Jan Brokken

    With: Ellen Deckwitz, Jan Brokken, Robin Block, Shantie Singh

    In his latest book De kampschilders (The Camp Painters, published by Atlas Contact), Jan Brokken weaves together the story of his parents, Han and Olga, with that of prominent artists from Bali, Willem and Maria Hofker, and Rudolf Bonnet, who ended up in the same Japanese internment camps in colonial Dutch East Indies during World War II, alongside Brokken's parents.
    In the midst of the camp's hardships, these artists depicted their fellow prisoners and managed to create beauty in those circumstances. Brokken not only portrays life in the camp but also delves into the pre-war artist community in Bali and explores how the trauma from the camp continued to affect his parents' lives after the war. This impactful book, illustrated with work by Bonnet and the Hofkers, has been well-received and was longlisted for the Libris Geschiedenis Prijs and for the Boekenbon Literatuurprijs.

    Writer and poet Ellen Deckwitz's grandmother, who had Indonesian roots, was also held in Japanese internment camps. Following her grandmother's passing, Deckwitz realized she was the only family member who had learned her life story. Her poetry collection Hogere natuurkunde (Higher Physics, published by Pluim) emerged from conversations with individuals of Indonesian heritage. The collection combines elements of travel narratives, mythology, and testimonies. Deckwitz was awarded the E. du Perron Prize for this work, and it was acclaimed by publications like Trouw, de Standaard, and NRC as the best book of the year.

    Writers Unlimited brought together these two acclaimed Dutch authors for a conversation. They explored the role of art in the history of the Dutch East Indies and discussed what motivated them to transform these historical events into art. They shared their creative processes, offering insights into their journeys through the past. Additionally, both authors read from their impressive works, which are characterized by depth and imagination.

    Poet and musician Robin Block participated in this program with poetic and musical performances. He published Handleiding voor ontheemden (Guide for the Displaced. 2023), a poetic exploration of Block's family roots in Indonesia. His work resides at the intersection of language, music, and performance. Block often writes poetry about the shared history of the Netherlands and Indonesia, as well as themes of displacement and belonging, as experienced by individuals with a colonial family history, a migration background, or an upbringing in diverse families and cultures.

    This Writers Series program was in Dutch.
    After the event: book sale by De Vries Van Stockum, along with an opportunity for book signing.
    Programme presented and curated by Shantie Singh (Writers Unlimited)

    Writers Series: Ellen Deckwitz in conversation with Jan Brokken
    Wednesday, October 11, 2023, 8:30 PM - 10:00 PM Central Library Podium B, Spui 68, 2511 BT The Hague

    Writers Unlimited organises the Writers Unlimited International Literature Festival The Hague every year in January (2024 dates: 18-21 January) and monthly Writers Series programmes throughout the year at various locations in The Hague, including the Central Public Library (Centrale Bibliotheek) The Hague. The festival, featuring more than 100 writers, poets, spoken word artists and musicians from the Netherlands and abroad, will take place over four days at venues including Theater aan het Spui, Filmhuis Den Haag, Paard, Koninklijke Schouwburg, neighbourhood libraries, Hague universities and secondary schools.

  • Winternachten 2012

    Winternachten Lecture

    With: Bas Heijne, Helon Habila, Henk Pröpper, Jan Brokken, Pearlmira Vincent

    Literature as a Way of Seeing
    Nigerian journalist/writer Helon Habila opens the festival with a lecture about literature as the art of seeing. Those who witness injustice can look away or walk away. A real writer, argues Habila, can't, because the writer is fascinated by that image and haunted by it until he writes about it. How can literature sharpen our view and increase our empathy? How do fiction and truth relate to each other? In his new novel Oil on Water, Habila exposes the abuses surrounding oil drilling in Nigeria without wagging his finger. The novel won a lot of praise and has been compared to Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. Soprano Pearlmira Vincent will sing an aria by Antonín Dvořák. Henk Pröpper, director of De Bezige Bij publishing house, and former director of the Dutch Foundation for Literature, will officially open the festival. After Habila's lecture Bas Heijne interviews the writer and chairs a discussion with Jan Brokken and Helon Habila. In English.
    Mansoura Ez Eldin (Egypt), had to cancel her performance for family reasons.

  • Winternachten 2006 – WINTERNACHT 1

    Chopin on Curaçao - a journey to the sources of Antillean music

    In 1993 writer Jan Brokken settled on Curaçao. He rented a house which had a piano and he spent his first night playing some of Chopin's mazurka's. The following morning he was embraced by his neighbour who exclaimed "I heared you play the piano last night and you were playing our music." That was the beginning of a fascination that led Brokken from Curaçao to Aruba, Cuba, Martinique, Guadeloupe and Trinidad, where he found the same musical patterns everywhere. He collected and took with him a wealth of stories and anecdotes from unique musicians . In Waarom elf Antillianen knielden voor het hart van Chopin (Why eleven Antilleans kneeled before the heart of Chopin), Jan Brokken's latest book, he illuminates one and a half century of Caribbean music. 'In the Caribbean music', he writes, 'I found what I was looking for in my travel stories: that is how different cultures merge into one another.' Using this music as a guideline Jan Brokken offers an unique insight into Antillean history, its way of life and the mentality. This evening you can listen to the story of Jan Brokken and to the music of the Konjunto Antyano quartet, directed by Randal Corsen. Dutch spoken.

  • Winternachten 2000 – Winternacht 2

    The Uncertain Journey

    Hugo Pos (Paramaribo, 1913-2000) was nestor of Surinamese-Dutch literature. Hij made his debut as a writer when he was 71 years of age. He discussed his work and his new book 'De ongewisse tijd'. Jan Brokken lives at Curaçao and from there travels around the world, searching for stories. In 'Jungle Rudy', he described a search through the jungles of Venezuela for the eccentric character of Rudy Truffino. The Aruban-Dutch writer Denis Henriquez presented his first travelling novel 'De zomer van Alejandro Bulos'. Hosted by Michiel van Kempen. Dutch spoken.