RIP Rudy Kousbroek 1929 – 2010

Rudy Kousbroek, my favorite writer, passed away this morning.

Kousbroek, born in Pematang Siantar, Sumatra, Indonesia, studied Mathematics, Chinese and Japanese in Amsterdam and later in Paris, where he would live for most of his life. His Indonesian youth and this strange mix of studies had a distinct influence on his writings, both in his style and choice of subjects.

After his ‘career’ as a poet, which he ended because he though he was only mediocre, which wasn’t good enough for him, he began writing essays, which form the main body of his work, though he has also published a novel, fairy-tales, letters and even a dutch translation of Raymond Queneau’s untranslatable Exercices de style.

He has written about almost everything, nature (mostly about pets, cats in particular), science and technology (dutch writers are mostly technophobes), language, social observations and of course Indonesia. His style was always clear and rational, using a lot of humor and polemic to make his point or educate his readers. He  had a profound dislike of anything related to religion, both institutional and the modern new-age variants. But despite his extreme rationality and empiricism, he still managed to convey his sense of amazement, wonder and respect for his subjects, which is so genuine it’s very contagious.

I have always admired him, while I can’t stand most other dutch writers, who tend to take themselves and so-called ‘dutch culture’ overly serious. Kousbroek was somehow the opposite of most dutch writers; he always claimed the Netherlands don’t have culture, just folklore and he was very modest about his work.

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