Adriaan van Dis

© Annaleen Louwes
Frankfurter Buchmesse
Guest of Honour 2016

Adriaan van Dis

1946, Bergen
Writer, television producer.

Adriaan van Dis is an acclaimed Dutch novelist, play write, documentary-maker and poet. Raised in a colonial family with colored roots in the Dutch Indies he deals with themes of identity and war traumas. As a student he got involved in the anti-apartheid struggle. Color sensitivity plays quite a role in his novels and films. In 1983, he debuted with his very successful novella, Nathan Sid- about a boy raised between two cultures: potatoes and rice. After several works of travel fiction including The Promised Land (1990) and In Africa (1991), his breakthrough came with the publication of the extremely successful and award-winning novel Indische duinen (My Father’s War, 1994), about the son of an Indonesian family, born in the Netherlands and raised in an atmosphere of silenced grief. The novel Familieziek (Repatriated, 2004) deals with the same subject in another light: the migration and integration of an uprooted family. In 2002 Van Dis moved to Paris. A very fruitful stay: he wrote five books in seven years. His walks in the banlieue resulted in essays and a novel: De wandelaar (The Walker, 2007). In Tikkop (Betrayal 2010), partly situated in Paris, he researched his involvement with South Africa. Both novels deal with migration and were also very well-received.

In 2014, he published Ik kom terug (I Will Return), an autobiographical novel about his complicated relationship with his mother who is willing to tell him her life story in exchange for a gentle death. He won the Libris Prize for Best Book of the Year (2015) and in early 2016 he received the prestigious Constantijn Huygens Prize for his complete body of work. His work has been translated into many languages.


  Translations   Atlas Contact   Droemer Knaur

Recently translated into German

Das verborgene Leben meiner Mutter
Translated by Marlene Müller-Haas
Droemer Knaur, 2016
Original title: Ik kom terug (Augustus, 2014)

After a long life of coldness, silence and rejection, a mother suddenly starts talking to her son. He, a novelist, is permitted to become her biographer, but on one condition: he must give her a peaceful death.

Will they stick to the rules? Can he be trusted? Can she? She taunts him with lies and half–truths, with dramatic stories about a childhood among the soldiers, thrilling adventures in the Dutch East Indies, and winding excursions into esotericism.
But as she declines on the way to 100, he increasingly withdraws from her.

Who is this mother? As the daughter of a West Brabant gentleman farmer, she married an Indonesian officer in the colonial army to the dismay of her Protestant family, and followed him to the tropics, where life turned out not to be very romantic.
After spending the war in a Japanese camp with her three daughters, she heard that her husband had been beheaded. Destitute, and pregnant with a son who was conceived adulterously with a new man, she returned to the Netherlands.
There, she ran a household, placated her wealthy family, devoted herself to spiritual matters, struck cuttings of her geraniums at full moon, and looked after her husband in his growing madness.

The son asks questions, takes notes, argues, ridicules, despairs, and has memories of his own. Das verbogene Leben meiner Mutter (I’ll Come Back) is a tragicomedy about a bizarre mother, a yearning son, and the terrifying power play that develops between them.
Everybody in Holland and Flanders sit down for this heart rending beauty and, after having finished the last page, stand up for this masterpiece.

***** De Scriptor

A beautiful paper grave.


True-hearted. There lies the power of Das 'Verbogene Leben meiner Mutter' ('I’ll Come Back'). The way in which Van Dis, clumsy but honestly, tries to get into contact with his mother… He presents his struggle with maternal love magnificently: he has to force himself to do right by her, to walk in her shoes. After all, as a grown man shouldn’t he be capable of a normal, reasonable, adult relationship with her? It is honest. And gripping till the very last page.

**** NRC Handelsblad

A fascinating story-teller.


Adriaan van Dis’ 'Das verbogene Leben meiner Mutter' ('I’ll Come Back') is a novel that is emotional without becoming melodramatic, intellectual, but not pedantic. It is a book that reveals the linguistic discipline of an experienced writer and digs to the core of human existence in a tragicomic manner.

Judges’ report Libris Literature Prize 2015