Adriaan van Dis was born in Bergen, northern Holland in 1946. His parents were among the repatriates from the Dutch East Indies (today Indonesia) who returned to their »new, old« home in the aftermath of World War II. Van Dis, with his dark-skinned half-sisters, grew up there, living between two cultures. A lack of identity and its construction, the self and the other were to become central themes in his literary works – novels, novellas, stories, often inspired by his many travels, and in his plays, essays and poems.
While studying Dutch language and literature, van Dis travelled to India. Afterwards, he studied Afrikaans and visited South Africa for the first time. He started working for the celebrated daily newspaper »NRC Handelsblatt« in 1974, and became editor-in-chief of its Saturday supplement, as well as editor of the literary magazine »De Gids«. He became nationally known as television presenter of the award-winning programme »Hier is … Adriaan van Dis«, in which he mostly interviewed writers from the Netherlands and abroad. By 1992, when he dedicated himself full-time to literature, he had already published numerous works, including the award-winning collection of short stories »Nathan Sid« (1984), about the struggles of a colonial family to reintegrate into the Dutch motherland. Autobiographical characteristics also appear in van Dis’s most successful novel, »Indische Duinen« (1994; Eng. »My Father’s War«, 1996), in which he revives family stories about the hybrid Dutch-Indonesian culture and about internment in Japanese camps during World War II. Yet in the foreground there is the protagonist’s conflict with his overbearing father, and the sensitive adolescent’s search for his own identity – a theme that also shaped his following novels and proved his reputation as a brilliant stylist: »Dubbelliefde« (1999; Eng. »Repatriated«, 2002), »Familieziek« (2002; tr: Family sick), and »De wandelaar« (2007; tr: The walker). In »Onder het zink« (2004; tr: »Under the Zinc Roofs«), van Dis describes everyday scenes in Paris, which are arranged eclectically and anecdotally and according to key words. His literary work dealing with the city in which he lives continued in »Stadsliefde, scenes in Parijs« (2011; tr. City Life. Scenes in Paris). Van Dis’ interest in the continent of Africa is apparent in travelogues like »Het beloofde land« (1990; The promised land), portraying the landscape of the steppes in Karoo and the author’s encounters with native people, or the reportage »In Afrika« (1991), which tackles the war in Mozambique. The award-winning documentary series »Van Dis in Afrika« was shown on Dutch television in 2008.
He has been awarded a number of prizes for his work, including the »Gouden Ezelsoor« for the bestselling literary début, the »Gouden Uil«, nominations for the AKO-Prijs, the Libris-Prijs and the Aristeion-Prijs, the Trouw Audience Award and the Groenman Language Prize. He was a visiting professor at the Free University in Berlin. Van Dis has been living in Paris since 2003.
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