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32 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unique and bold, a true work of ART
The Ten Thousand Things is an uncommonly
odd book. Yet there is an undercurrent of
almost suffocating pressure that "betrays"
the
sometimes modest exposition. It fits into no
particular category - magic realism would be the
first term that springs to mind - yet the wonderful
review on the back flap makes allusions to...
Published on July 27, 1997

versus
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Somewhat Disappointing
I really wanted to love this book. Because it was so ecstatically recommended, perhaps my expectations going into it were too high. Additionally, I'm sure it would have helped a great deal if I had an understanding of Dutch-Indonesian history .

I found Dermout's prose beautiful and lyrical for the most part, although I must admit sometimes her numerous...
Published 5 months ago by Kindle Customer


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32 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unique and bold, a true work of ART, July 27, 1997
By A Customer
The Ten Thousand Things is an uncommonly
odd book. Yet there is an undercurrent of
almost suffocating pressure that "betrays"
the
sometimes modest exposition. It fits into no
particular category - magic realism would be the
first term that springs to mind - yet the wonderful
review on the back flap makes allusions to
Hemingway.... It cannot be pigeonholed. " I fear
the
man of one book," (to paraphrase St. Augustine)
and I feel his statement corroborates well with
Dermout's gorgeous novel.
The exposition is odd yet simple. Her
descriptions are so sharp that at times, at the risk
sounding silly, they flash off the page.
There is no doubt in my mind that this
book
has been overlooked. I
would feel no remorse in suggesting
this book to anyone.
The "inner bay," "the outer bay," and the
garden near the old woman's house
are presented in
a robust and intriguing manner, far more gut-
wrentching than "The English Patient" for my
tastes.
The Ten Thousand Things is a dreamy
fairy tale with a savagely
imaginative moral that is far more subliminal
than I feel most people, on a haphazard reading,
might suspect
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars read it aloud, September 8, 2001
By A Customer
I can see why some would compare the writing style to Hemingway, but Dermout's imprint is clearly a feminine one. The language is simple and the sense of nostalgia it conjures is rich and complex, but it is never tinged by the scent of spilled beer - rather, crushed flowers. This is a dreamy tale with a core of sadness. Read it aloud to someone and notice how your appreciation of the story grows.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mysterious and lovely, August 29, 2002
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This review is from: The Ten Thousand Things (Paperback)
Dermout's classic novel is the kind the New York Review of Books Classics loves to bring out: a cult favorite with a one-of-a-kind flavor. The dreamy, simple tone belies the extreme formal complexity of the work: actually consisting really of a novella and several appended tales, the work brings everything together at the conclusion. This is a book to be read and re-read; its mysteries are not readily plumbed but are rewarding nonetheless.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Maria Dermout: The Subliminal Hemingway, June 16, 1998
By A Customer
"They let themselves drop, their fins upright, as if they were drowning, rose again; they kept together, swam over and under each other, carefully, not touching, with a strangely thoughtful yet casual grace. "Then, as unexpectedly as they had risen, they dropped down into the deep and did not reappear."
I am glad my sister recommended this book to me. It goes to show the best books are in many cases the least popular. With one eye on passage above (read the book to find the wild Proustian metonymical link symbolized by the turtles) , I wonder why The Ten Thousand Things is not more popular. The book is thoroughly steeped in the rhetorical tones of Hemingway; yet the effect is unearthly enough to elude any categorization. Time will reveal the books timeless appeal: in a just literary world this masterpiece would be in every bookstore. Thoroughly weird, thoroughly normal, the book is a lamented reflection of time and death through an irridescent mirror.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Vigil for All the Murdered, April 23, 2012
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"She knew that a bay and rocks and trees bending over the surf cannot relieve sadness -- can sadness be relieved, or can one only pass it by, very slowly?"

In my reading over the past decade, I have really come to trust the reissues of the New York Review of Books -- works of fiction, predominantly foreign, that have undeservedly slipped out of circulation. They do for older literature what the Europa Press does for contemporary: open the reader's eyes to a wide range of geographical locations, subjects, and narrative approaches. There are many hits but few misses, and even the oddball books that are hard to classify are fascinating in their oddness.

So it is with this unique novel by Dutch author Maria Dermoût, first published in 1958. How to describe it: a ghost story, a generation-spanning romance, a tropical idyll? It begins as a novel, then dissolves all the conventions in a series of apparently unconnected stories, only to pull it all together in a final chapter resonant with the echoes of old losses and present joy. But let's start with the beginning: "On the island in the Moluccas there were a few gardens left from the great days of spice growing...". On one of these, on the Inner Bay, lives a widow, an old Dutch settler, known as "The Lady of the Small Garden." She has a grand-daughter, Felicia, who grows up among the plants, shells, and animal life of the bay, an idyllic childhood full of discovery and imagination. Full, too, of the imagination of others: the beliefs of the island people, the visits of the old Bibi selling objects with special powers, the collections in her grandmother's curiosity cabinet, and the ghosts of three little girls in pink who died long ago on the same day.

The book's presiding spirit is the 17th-century German Dutch botanist Georg Eberhard Rumphius, who first classified the plants of the Indonesian archipelago, but also published a book of curiosities which is as speculative as his herbiary was scientific. Dermoût also shifts from objective description to inner imagination, often within a single sentence. Fact and fancy intermingle in this book, time is dissolved, the Lady of the Small Garden even morphs from grandmother to granddaughter in the book's opening section, and nobody even notices.

For Felicia, after completing her education in Europe and marrying a man who soon deserts her, comes back to the Island with her infant son Himpies. She lives in the Small Garden and grows old in her turn. Decades slip by in an eyeblink. Major happenings pass in moments; minor ones seem suspended in time. World events hardly seem to touch this outpost; it is hard even to put a date on the action, though it probably begins in the later 19th century. But Felicia is no hermit; even as an old woman, she welcomes the guests who sail their proas to her dock. One day each year, however, she keeps strictly for herself, as a vigil for all those who have been murdered on the island....

Accustomed as I now was to the unpredictable aspects of this book, I was taken by surprise when, about half-way through, Dermoût suddenly takes leave of Felicia and embarks upon three stories which seem to have no connection with each other. There is the retired Commissioner at the Outer Bay, holed up in an old house with four women and a collection of gold and pearls. There is the cook Constance, with her parade of admirers and her fondness for dancing at the rattan tug-of-war. There is the Javanese prince who takes work as a clerk to a Scottish professor, revisiting Rumphius' work on the flora and fauna of the islands. Only at the very end, when we return to Felicia's annual vigil, do we see the connections between the stories, not merely in the deaths they contain, but also in the cycle of life, a vision of wholeness that embraces shells and pearls, a fleet of jellyfish and a tame cockatoo, memories of children and young men killed in their prime, and extending even to the murderers themselves.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful & True to the Place, January 18, 2004
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Much has been said in praise of this book before, so I would only like to add that not only is it beautifully written, but it also reflects a deep understanding of the place where the story unfolds. Thus the author paints a realistic (though sad) picture of the Moluccas and their people, rather than just using them as an exotic background to her story.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Moluccan Remembrance, April 4, 2000
By 
frumiousb "frumiousb" (Amsterdam, the Netherlands) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
The Ten Thousand things seems to be a book that inspires comparisons. I've heard Thoreau and Hemingway mentioned, and for my part I kept thinking about Muriel Wylie and Annie Dillard. The Lady of the Small Garden and her night of murders is a wonderful manner to trace life on these Indonesian islands, providing a lush backdrop for the author's meditations on life. Unfortunately, there are places where the translation from the Dutch is a bit clunky and breaks up the text. But those moments are almost entirely forgivable.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Phrases Just Right, Startling, April 3, 2010
By 
Bixology (University Park, MD, United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Ten Thousand Things (Paperback)
"The Professor" is a gem embedded in a sleek silver bracelet. A fantastic novel like the South American variety. Reoccurring phrases are just right, startling.

The last member of a Dutch colonial family lives on an island in the Moluccas (the Spice Islands, now of Indonesia). Section one lyrically describes the island. Section two flashes back to her girlhood with her grandmother; her return from schooling in Holland, where she had a baby; the baby's growth; and the circumstances of his death. Section three is formed by three independent short stories in which a murder occurs. In the fourth section, Felicia, "the lady of the Small Garden," meets the ghosts of those murdered in the previous section and tries to come to terms with the semantic distinction between "being killed" and "dying."

First published in Dutch in 1955. Translated by Hans Koning.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The hundred things of many, May 22, 2012
This review is from: The Ten Thousand Things (Paperback)
The "Small Garden" at the Inner Bay, a picturesque place where the views, the smells, sounds and colours, "held her, slowly enveloped her, showed her things, whispered her its secrets..." It is a place where time can stand still, where past and present and future, perhaps?, can fuse into one unifying image. The "lady of the Small Garden" likes to wander along its paths, or, resting somewhere in the shade, lets her mind go back in time, remembering those who lived here before her and those who passed on. She feels, touches or imagines the many thousand things that have left their mark on this land over many generations. In her company we are drawn into a world that is real and imagined, that can reveal itself in intricate detail or in impressionistic apparition. We follow her exploring the woods at one end of the garden, or sit with her on the deck looking out into the bay, watching the gentle surf and the trade boats glide by... Does this sound enthralling and somewhat unreal? Indeed it is both. Yet, the place is real, with real people living on an island (Ambon) in the Moluccas in a more or less specific historical time. Dutch writer Maria Dermoût has created an extraordinary novel in which she paints landscape, atmosphere and characters so beautifully that you want to learn more about her, the people and the island. Drawing on her life experiences, while living and traveling for many years in the then Dutch East Indies, she is recognized as a prominent representative of Dutch literature, yet little known elsewhere.

Felicia, the heroine of the story, takes over the role as the lady of the Small Garden from her grandmother who in turn learned many of the island's stories from her own grandmother. The "small" Garden, which is not small at all, dominates the island. Each object, plant or animal in the garden had its own story, from the scientific name to the mysteries of the indigenous beliefs, to the traditional medicines of the islands and the spirits of those long past. Felicia is a modern young woman when she returns with her young son to her childhood place to stay with her grandmother. And slowly, very slowly she discovers the secrets of the place and learns to see and listen to its tunes.

Dermoût combines her talents of an intricate story teller with the eye of a painter. Her descriptions of places and people are delicate and imaginative. At the same time, she weaves into the fabric of her overall portrayal of Felicia and the Garden other people's stories from nearby places. We meet a Scots professor accompanied by an attractive proud Javanese assistant; a commissioner with a mysterious domestic arrangement; Felicia's son and his adventures, and others. Their stories are connected in some way, even if, initially, we may not quite see how these fit into the broader canvass... but suffice to say that they do in the end. The novel's structure is similarly subtle and initially not totally easy to follow. I actually read the first pages twice - once for their imaginary beauty and once for comprehension of the narrative flow. Once I realized that I was entering an unknown landscape, I also discovered that the understated narrative structure and impressionistic impressions eventually condensed to defined images of a rich portrait of lives lived in a real, yet magical place.

Maria Dermoût's novel was first published in 1955 in Dutch and in translated into English in 1958. During her lifetime, she died in 1962, she did not experience the respect and admiration for this novel and her other work that she achieved later. Hans Koning's sensitive translation and excellent introduction to this novel make the new NYRB edition a delight to read. [Friederike Knabe]
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars one of the best books I have read in 72 years, May 16, 2013
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Each word and chapter are poetry, one gets a true feel not only for Felicia's emotions, but for the way the island feels on your skin. Lovely book, one of the books I would take on a trip or to a desert island to read again and again.
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The Ten Thousand Things
The Ten Thousand Things by Hans Koning (Paperback - Aug. 2002)
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