Tag Archives: Otto de Kat
MacLehose Press is a determinedly international imprint, so it was with some delight that we can report on Otto de Kat, author of News from Berlin, visiting the Jaipur Literature Festival last week, where he spoke alongside the likes of Jim Crace, Anthony Beevor, Tash Aw, Justin Cartwright and Philip Hensher.
Otto participated in two discussions: The Art of Historical Novel and The Literature of War and Revolution. Both were lively and attended by upwards of 1,000 people, a not uncommon crowd at Asia’s largest literary festival.
The panel discussing the historical novel were particularly interested in the role of the imagination in reconstructing a fictionalised past, and how this interacted with historical veracity. Otto came down on the side of the imagination, saying that his method is to research the facts, but then to do all he can to forget them when he comes to write. He commented that “to an author, history is much like a butler serving in the right place at the right time.”
There was more consensus in the War Fiction event, where the participants discussed texts which had influenced them. Otto spoke powerfully about non-fictional accounts of war, such as Anne Frank’s diary, and also commented on the way that the First World War inspired many soldiers to become poets, turning to literary form to come to terms with their experiences.
Both talks relate very closely to News from Berlin, Otto’s most recent novel, which is steadily gathering critical acclaim from across the media. Kathy Stevenson in the Daily Mail praised the novel as “a masterclass in how less can be more, packed full of atmosphere, emotion and philosophical debate.” Meanwhile Lucy Popescu, writing in the Independent on Sunday, judged it “a compelling portrait of love, loss and regret.”
Perhaps the most enthusiastic praise came from Roger Cox in Scotland on Sunday. He argues that the novel “contrives to feel like a sweeping epic, even though it’s barely more than 200 pages long,” and that it has “enough material for a 12-part TV miniseries”. In conclusion, he names de Kat a “master of the impressionistic literary brush stroke” whose characters “positively leap off the page”. “De Kat,” he says, “can break your heart in 200 words, never mind 200 pages.”
“How to canonise Eileen Battersby?” asked Christopher MacLehose when he saw the stunning Irish Times spread on Otto de Kat’s Julia, which, making a mockery of the trend towards minimising review space, also took in de Kat’s previous novels in translation, Man on the Move and The Figure in the Distance . . .
“Julia is de Kat’s fourth novel, his third to be translated into English. It acquires an increasingly subtle and relentless power. Formerly a leading publisher and critic in the Netherlands, de Kat (real name Jan Geurt Gaarlandt, born in 1946) began his writing life as a poet. His first novel, The Figure in the Distance (2002), took restlessness as its central theme. States of mind dominate his work. In Man on the Move (2004, translated 2009), the central character realises that, despite his endless travel, life is something that happens to other people. Comparisons with Jean-Paul Sartre’s Nausea (1938) are obvious and have been made by reviewers across Europe. It is an ode not to friendship but to the idea of friendship. In common with Julia, it is as much a poem as it is a novel.
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Julia is another of those deceptively ‘little’ novels, just under 200 pages, that say so much more than many narratives twice the length. Included among the longlisted nominations for the forthcoming International Impac Dublin Literary Award, Julia is extraordinary. In Chris Dudok, de Kat has created a portrait of a passive son, lover, husband and dreamer who lives in a state of quiet lamentation. He is not a hero, only a man. His story is one of regret, a life lost in so many ways. It is as chilling as it is sad and familiar. Anyone who read Man on the Move will probably have already reached for Julia, or will want to. These are novels of subtle emotional distance that compel a reader into a cohesive response that it as physical as a blow to the heart.”
You can read the full, much, much longer review here.
Both Julia and Man on the Move are available in paperback.
The fabulous literature blog Just William’s Luck has posted an incisive and interesting review of Otto De Kat’s Julia:
MacLehose Press are prolific publishers specialising in literature in translation. The problem is that they’re so prolific (or have been so generous in making titles available to read and review) and their list so varied and wide-ranging that making a decision about which books to actually read can prove to be almost paralysing.
What was it that made me finally opt for this slim novel from former publisher Jan Geurt Gaarlandt? [...]
The way in which de Kat moves between these three separate viewpoints is as seamless and fluid as memory and his prose throughout is spare (as I have come to expect from Dutch novelists of late) but with moments of wonderful poetry.
In a novel about freedom and its opposite he helps us to see that though Chris is fortunate enough to be able to escape the growing horror in Germany we have to question how much or in what way he was able to escape it at all.
To read the review in full please head on over to Just William’s Luck.
The indispensible literature blog milorambles has posted a spectacular review of Otto De Kat’s Julia:
Beautifully translated by Ina Rilke – a prize winning translator of books including Cees Nooteboom and Margriet de Moor – Julia is a veritable work of art. Weighing in at a little under 200 pages my only negative comment would be with its size, I simply fell in love with the book and like all good relationships I wanted more. It was over far too soon.
The prose is an example of one of the most beautiful and heart felt books I’ve had the pleasure of reading this year. There’s something magical about it that simply draws you in, the combination of storytelling, a love lost and a country at the most uncertain of times effortlessly holding your attention throughout. . .
It’s very rare for me to give marks out of five or ten for any review but this book – for me – is faultless. With that in mind there’s only one score I could award this wonderfully evocative tale of lost love – 5 out of 5. I can’t say much more than that. If you’re looking for a little escapism on a dreary winter’s night then look no further than Julia by Otto de Kat, beautifully written, you won’t be sorry.
Read the review in full over on the the milorambles blog.
In 2011 MacLehose Press are releasing six titles by authors who are publishing their second novel with us. Translated from French, Spanish, Arabic and Dutch, two have won Independent Foreign Fiction Prizes while all have been extremely well received by reviewers.
In November of last year we previewed the first three: The Folded Earth by Anuradha Roy, The Goldsmith’s Secret by Elia Barceló and Monsieur Linh and His Child by Philippe Claudel. Now its time to turn attention to the three to be published in the second half of 2011, new novels by Elias Khoury, Evelio Rosero and Otto de Kat, translated by Humphrey Davies, Anne McLean with Anna Milsom, and Ina Rilke, respectively.
Yalo, by the great Lebanese author Elias Khoury, was first published by MacLehose Press in 2009. Earlier this year the translator, Humphrey Davies, won the Banipal Prize for Arabic translation for his rendering of the novel into English. It was the second time that this partnership had won the prize, and who would bet against there being a third success?
“This novel is a tour de force for both author and translator, an ambitious work which deals magnificently with the violence of history and the loss and uses of language, with torture and rape and sexuality. An important and complex book, which brings the history of Lebanon vividly, painfully and colourfully to life.”
Margaret Drabble, Banipal citation
As Though She Were Sleeping, the winner of the first Arabic Novel Prize, is in every respect a worthy follow-up. Focusing on the life of young Lebanese woman who takes refuge from reality in sleeping and dreaming, it is richly and powerfully symbolic of the human cost of the ongoing troubles in the Middle East. Jilted by a suitor, Meela marries a Palestinian man many years her senior and leaves her family to live in a city far from home in a country that is soon to be plunge into chaos by the arrival of Jewish settles and the creation of the state of Israel.
Colombian Evelio Rosero won the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize – the second of three international literary awards – for The Armies, a beautiful but harrowing novel about a remote rural village destroyed by remorseless violence. The opening paragraphs offer startlingly lyrical prose, and what follows serves as a faithful and unflinching account of the evils that blight an otherwise forward-looking and creative nation.
Evelio Rosero has dipped his pen in blood and written an epic in 215 pages. If anyone has wondered if there is life in the Colombian novel after magic realism, this is the evidence of the extraordinary power of that country’s literature. Linda Grant, Independent
Good Offices is a mischievous and surreal satire on the role of the Catholic Church in Colombia. Tancredo is a hunchback in virtual servitude to the parish, who is relentlessly pursued by the sacristan’s goddaughter. His life takes a turn for the bizarre when a stand-in priest is brought in at the last moment, whose mesmerizing sung mass and unquenchable thirst for aguardiente elicits very strange behaviour from the denizens of the church.
Man on the Move is a poetic and heartbreaking tale drawn from the often overlooked Dutch involvement in the Second World War. Rob, the son of a provincial mayor leaves his home country in pursuit of less restricted life and, after a stint in the mines outside Johannesburg, joins up to fight and is subsequently captured by the Japanese.
“This is a novel of extraordinary power and moral beauty, executed with a poet’s intricate artistry. Between its opening and closing departures, we proceed according to some deep psychic logic, ever further into a life not well-lived but, even so, strangely exemplary.” Paul Binding, Independent
Otto de Kat returns to the Second World War period with Julia. His spare, impressionistic prose is the perfect vehicle for conveying the sense of purpose that gripped Hitler’s Germany in the pre-war years. The story is told from the perspective of a naive young Dutchman who falls in love with a brilliant, vivacious engineer. Yet her irrepressible, libertine spirit puts her on a irrevocable collision course with the Nazi authorities, and Chris’ courage, forever undermined by his shaky self-esteem, will be tested to its limits.
You can read an extract from Man on the Move here. And by the way, if you can tell us who it is that adorns the cover of Julia, you will win all three of the new novels profiled here.