Oek de Jong (b.1952) is one of Hollands most important writers. He is the author of best-selling novels such as Billowing Summer Skirts (Opwaaiende zomerjurken, 1979), Circle in the Grass (Cirkel in het gras, 1985) and Hokwerda’s Child (Hokwerda’s kind, 2002), which has been nominated for the Libris Literature Prize in Holland and the Golden Owl in Belgium. In 2012 appeared Pier and Ocean (Pier en oceaan), a huge and epic novel, which won him a Libris Prize nomination, the Golden Owl and two other literary prices. In the fall of 2019 he published his novel Black Barn (Zwarte schuur), hailed as a ‘monumental novel’ and ‘an instant classic’ by reviewers and the public and shortlisted for the Libris Literature Prize 2020 and winner of the Boekenbon Literature Prize 2020 (former AKO Literature Prize).
Oek de Jong’s work has sold more than six hundred thousand copies.
His novels have been translated into German (Piper Verlag), French (Editions Gallimard) and the Scandinavian languages (Norsteds, Gyldendahl).
Oek de Jong is also famous for his exquisite essays. He published four collections of essays and autobiographical pieces, mainly on writers and visual artists. In 2013 he published a widely-read essay on the position and power of the novel in the age of TV-serials and film: What only the novel can tell (Wat alleen de roman kan zeggen).
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Authors Passport Oek de Jong
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Man Without a Driving License
In his mid-sixties, Oek de Jong, who never wanted to drive, decides to take driving lessons. The scene is Amsterdam, the city that has been his home for almost fifty years, and which he is now rediscovering in all its vastness from the perspective of the learner car. Why did he wait so long? This question takes him back to how he became the person he is today. Images emerge: a near-fatal drive in his mother’s car, how he was shaped by his reserved father en mother, the machismo of his Frisian grandfather, accidents and narrow escapes, travelling in Egypt and Morocco without a car, the effect of introversion on a life. His first drive on the Amsterdam ring road gives Oek de Jong the shock that inspired Man Without a Driving Licence, a surprising memoir filled with humour and self-mockery about being young and growing older.
Press on Man Without a Driving License
‘Oek de Jong turns his driving lessons into literature, into a story that means more than it says at first glance. He does this as a novelist to begin with, with scenes.’ – Thomas de Veen in NRC Handelsblad
‘In his entertaining and moving memoir Man Without a Driving Licence, De Jong evocatively reports on his trips through the city in the lesson car.’ – Lieke Kézér in Trouw
Novel • 496 pages • 75,000 copies in print • English sample translation available • Book of the Month (at De Wereld Draait Door, Holland’s most popular daily talk show) • Shorlisted for the Libris Literature Prize 2020 •#3 at the overall Dutch bestseller list • Translation rights by Liepman, Marianne Fritsch via email@example.com
“Once you let the monster out of its cage, you’ll never get it in again.”
At the age of ninety-five the artist Maris Coppoolse is given a retrospective in Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum. It’s written up in the international press; visitors throng into the show. Maris is at the pinnacle of his fame. Then a magazine cover story exposes the source of his obsessive work: a crime he committed at age fourteen. No one in his circle knew about this; his friends and acquaintances are deeply shocked.
It had all started on an island, in a tar-black barn.
This is the story of a life marked forever by a single catastrophic event. It is the artist’s life sentence. We see him living as an artist in Amsterdam and New York, and are given a probing view of his troubled marriage to the vivacious and adventurous, but likewise incriminated Fran. The magazine story drives him to relive his childhood, especially that Sunday afternoon on the island, when he went into a barn he had no business being.
Black Barn is a novel about living with trauma and overcoming it and about the women who confront Maris with himself over the course of the years. It is also about the power of true love.
Press on Black Barn
“In Black Barn, Oek de Jong provides possible answers to the question of what family actually is and what it does to you. An incident from the protagonist’s childhood continues to haunt him for the rest of his life. (…) that is one of the main themes of this rich novel. (…) He is a novelist who excels in meticulous descriptions full of colourful details. He is a writer with an exceptionally sharp eye. (…) In this monumental novel, Oek de Jong keeps playing with his readers’ expectations till the very end.” – Thomas van den Bergh in HP/De Tijd
“Black Barn, the ambitious new novel by Oek de Jong, is the story of the downfall and resurrection of a creative person. (…) In a clear, confident style, De Jong immediately heightens the drama. (…) Oek de Jong has a fine sensibility for details, appearances, smells, the little things that define or control a mood or atmosphere. His writing is exceptionally evocative and yet crystal clear, without contrived comparisons. (…) Black Barn is a strange reading experience, unfashionably intense and compelling, which is also disarming for the reader. (…) With his explanatory psychology and his forceful – even almost cathartic – narrative mode, Oek de Jong has written another instant classic of the sort you are almost surprised can still be written in this day and age.” – Marja Pruis in De Groene Amsterdammer
“Seven magical years after the award-winning Pier and Ocean, Oek de Jong delights us once again with an epic of nearly five hundred pages. It is a gift, because Black Barn is the brainchild of a writer who is quite clearly still on a roll. (…) Black Barn is a novel about the long tentacles of guilt and the blistering power of a great love.” – Jelle van Riet in de Standaard
“Here is a writer at work who no longer needs to prove himself, who is able to draw you into his story with confidence and ease. But he does not rest on his laurels: in a way that is new in his oeuvre, Oek de Jong searches for an answer to the question of what defines a person. (…) That is one of the great qualities of Black Barn: its liveliness. De Jong regularly breaks the golden rules of writing by explicitly naming feelings, with big words, but the liveliness remains. (…) From then on, in the third part, Black Barn becomes largely a series of love stories, in different colour schemes, different settings, like a retrospective of the artist’s love life. It is one of the fluid and masterful ways in which De Jong combines structure, form and content. (…) The novel makes time pass by so that, at an appropriate moment, you look up and think: what just happened? The novel unfolds, and Oek de Jong guides you along with a steady hand, without any visible effort.” ●●●● – Thomas de Veen in NRC Handelsblad
“In Black Barn we see Oek de Jong at his best: as a powerful narrator, passionate dramatist, keen observer, expert on the heart and soul. Rarely has an obsession been rendered so clear and tangible. With Black Barn, De Jong transforms the web of eroticism and violence into a compelling and penetrating novel.” – Jaap Goedegebuure
“Painterly prose. (…) An entire life depicted in a cinematically edited series of significant snapshots, written in sensory sentences that never draw attention to themselves with flashy metaphors or impressive verbal acrobatics. (…) De Jong brilliantly describes the confusion of sexual awakening, with small-town girl Matty Tramper as the provocative ‘object’ of barely controllable feelings. Masterly, and new territory for De Jong, is the way he manages to portray the ebb and flow of a long relationship, the way he makes insecurities, jealousies and annoyances tangible from both perspectives, and shows the strength and fragility of such a relationship – just a few examples of the new elements contained in this novel in addition to familiar themes.” – Dirk Jan Arensman in VPRO gids
“It is a thick book, a compelling and exciting book, a wonderful book! (….) I devoured Black Barn with a great gusto and pleasure.” – Gijs Groenteman on Kunststof radio
Pier and Ocean
In Pier and Ocean, Oek de Jong chronicles the history of Abel Roorda, his parents and grandparents, and the immense changes in the Netherlands between the winter famine of 1944 and the new affluence of the 1960s. The novel is set in Amsterdam and in rural Friesland and Zeeland, parts of the country that were then still considered deeply provincial. The gripping scenes from the marriage of Abel’s mother and father provide glimpses of love in a bygone age. Pier and Ocean is a novel of the water that is so central to Dutch life, from still pools in peat bogs to the sea crashing through breakwaters onto the beaches of Zeeland. Like his father and grand father before him, Abel Roorda is drawn to water in its many guises.
Press on Pier and Ocean
‘Oek de Jong’s magnum opus. A stunning evocation of time gone by and an authentic portrait of the artist as a young man.’ – NRC Handelsblad
‘A sweeping family history. Pier and Ocean is very likely to become the literary event of 2012.’ – Vrij Nederland
‘Unquestionably Oek de Jong’s finest work.’ – Trouw
Winner of the Belgian Golden Book Owl 2013
Winner of the Bordewijk Prize
Winner of the Zeeuwse Book Prize
Shortlisted for the Dutch Libris Literature Prize 2013
Longlisted for the AKO Literature Prize 2013
Hokwerda’s Child is the story of a determined young woman, Lin Hokwerda, who loses herself in love. As a young girl, Lin Hokwerda is repeatedly thrown into the river by her father, who holds her by one arm and one leg and hurls her into the water that runs behind their house in the Friesian countryside. Every time after the rough splash into the water, she swims back to her father. Again and again she is flung back – until she almost drowns. With her mother and sister, Lin flees her father at a young age. In her twenties, after a successful but prematurely broken sport career, she meets the man of her dreams. But the pattern of their love resembles that of the opening scene: Lin is consistently cast away by Henri but always comes back. When she meets Jelmer, a mild-mannered lawyer, and again falls in love, it appears, for a moment, that she can eradicate her fatal man from her life. However, she cannot quieten her restlessness and seeks out Henri once more.
Press on Hokwerda’s Child/ La fille de Hokwerda (Editions Gallimard)
‘The prologue of this novel is, in itself, a cruel, unforgettable little tale…’ – Le Temps
‘(…) sensational novel (…) Lin Hokwerda drifts like one of Lars von Trier’s heroine.’ – Le Figaro
‘We are still haunted by this story long after reading it.’ – Elle
‘In Hokwerda’s Child, Oek de Jong explores domestic violence. An astonishing novel.’ – Journal du Dimanche
‘An unsettling and fascinating novel by an author whose every book is an event in the Netherlands.’ – Le Monde
Circle in the Grass
Oek de Jong’s prime preoccupation, the desire for a harmonious life – whether or not through art – is repeated in this novel set in Italy in the late seventies, gripped by the horror of the kidnap and murder of the politician Aldo Moro. One of its ideas is that whoever strives for a Buddhist approach to life must recognize that good and evil are two sides of the same coin: the Red Brigade on the one side and their capitalist victim on the other.
This idea is echoed in the book’s love story in which the author attempts to resolve the contradictions of independence versus surrender and head versus heart. Andrea Simonetti, an Italian art historian and poet, sees his love affair with Dutch journalist Hanna Piccard floundering. The point of view is divided among four characters, and only the author seems finally to triumph. A serious novel of ideas.
Press on Circle in the Grass/ Ein Kreis im Gras (Piper Verlag)
‘Here, an incomprehensible fourteen years late, is Oek de Jong’s wonderfully powerful novel about the most unstable feeling in the world – love.’ – Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
‘Circle in the Grass is considered one of the most important contemporary Dutch novels. And probably rightly so.’ – Wiener Zeitung
‘Oek de Jong is not only on a par with Mulisch and Nooteboom, he is also younger, heftier, more ironic and precise. It was about time he was discovered.’ – Neue Züricher Zeitung
In der äussersten Finsternis, Piper Verlag, Munich, 2005, translated by Thomas Hauth; La fille de Hokwerda, Editions Gallimard, Paris, 2004, translated by Anita Concas; Hokwerda datter, Gyldendal, Copenhagen, 2004, translated by Tim Kane
Billowing Summer Frocks
Circle in the Grass
Ein Kreis im Gras, Piper Verlag, Munich, 1999, translated by Thomas Hauth; Un cerc in iarba, Editura Univers, Boecarest, 1991, translated by H.R. Radian; Cirkel i graesset, Gyldendal, Copenhagen, 1988, translated by Tove Kircheiner Galatius;Sirkel i gresset, Gyldendal Norsk Forlag, Oslo, translated by Agnethe Weisser;Kehä sulkeutuu, Kustannusosakeyhtiö Tammi, Helsinki, 1988, translated by Anita Odé; En cirkel i gräset, Norstedts Förlag, Stockholm, 1987, translated by Per Holmer.