Otto de Kat was born under the name Jan Geurt Gaarlandt in Rotterdam in 1946. He studied theology and Dutch literature at the University of Leiden. Subsequently, he worked as a literary critic for the newspapers »de Volkskrant« and »Vrij Nederland« and as a publisher. In 1986, he founded Balans publishing company, which produces non-fiction books on politics, history, psychology and religion as well as biographies and memoirs.
Twenty-two years after he made his literary début with the poetry collection »Het ironisch handvest« (1976; t: The ironic charter), he published his first novel, »Man in de verte« (1998; t: »The Figure in the Distance«, 2002) under the pseudonym Otto de Kat. Out of just under one hundred pages, the portrait of a solitary rambler emerges, a man who has spent his whole life on the move but can never seem to escape his past. De Kat presents the protagonist’s memories in a form reminiscent of cinematic montage, with sequences in New York, Zurich, Budapest, The Hague, Cambridge, and Tel Aviv. In the centre of this convoluted web stands the protagonist’s father, a distant, powerful and amiable figure who inspires passivity and melancholy in his son. Set against precious moments in the father’s presence, an unfulfilled life is revealed in which the son endures the loss of his best friend and lets the opportunity for a great love pass by. With intense imagery and clear, laconic prose – the »suspended poetics of the journey,« as critic Christoph Schröder once described it – de Kat creates a hypnotising, painfully beautiful atmosphere of nostalgic restlessness.
De Kat’s next two works also deal with the past and its being out of reach. »De inscheper« (2004; t: »Man on the Move«, 2009), which was awarded the Halewijn Literature Prize, tells the story of a man always breaking for new shores. Yet his search for a new life is merely an escape from his old one, which he found unbearably restrictive. His travels take him to South Africa and the Far East, where he lands in a Japanese labour camp and to Nagasaki, where he survives the atomic bomb attack – all the while real life seems to happen to other people, who abandon him or whom he abandons.
De Kat’s third novel, »Julia« (2008), is also set during World War Two. The artistic son of a factory owner is supposed to go to Lübeck and learn the ways of the working world before he takes over his father’s factory. He falls in love with a woman there but, after the November 1938 pogroms, abandons her to face her uncertain fate alone, following her advice and returning to Holland. From that point on, his entire existence is overshadowed and disturbed by the life he left behind. »Julia« will be published in Germany in 2010. De Kat’s works have been translated into French and English as well. Recently, the author resigned the leadership of his publishing company. He lives in Amsterdam.
© international literature festival berlin