Julia – Otto de Kat

I have a soft spot for translated books, slim books and books with a wartime setting. At 168 pages, Dutch author Otto de Kat’s Julia, ticked plenty of boxes. The copy I read was a brand new one from my library which was an added treat.

Julia is a story that is as elegant and sparse as its simple title suggests. Throughout there is a sense of regret and melancholy and by the end, real sadness.

In 1938, Chris Dudock is living and working in Lübeck Germany. He is Dutch, has a girlfriend and family business waiting for him back home. The rise of Nazi power is evident, beginning to infiltrate the daily life of the German people. Chris meets and falls in love with Julia, a vibrant and free spirited German engineer who isn’t afraid of speaking out against the regime. When her brother is arrested, she pleads with Chris to leave Germany, claiming he is putting her at risk by remaining. Chris makes the biggest mistake of his life and returns to Holland.

Fast forward many years and the mature Chris Dudok has done what was expected of him. He married and took over his father’s business. On the outside he has lived a reserved yet fairly ordinary life. On the inside, there has been real emptiness – he left part of himself behind in Lübeck all those years ago.

Light on detail, Julia is a book about living with loss and the impact that one decision had on Chris Dudock’s life. The narrative (always in the third person) flicks between 1938 and the present time (1980s) with snippets of the years in between. The mood of the book reminded me of Sandor Marai’s Embers and Stefan Zweig’s The Post Office Girl – both intense stories on the subject of loss.

This story won’t be for everyone as it has a slow, reflective style rather than one with a lot of plot. I thought it was dignified and quite beautifully written. I read it as part of Iris on Books Dutch Literature Month. It looks as if it has been a popular choice.

Translated from the Dutch by Ina Rilke

2011, 168 pages

7 responses to “Julia – Otto de Kat

  1. I was also reminded of Zweig when I read this very gentle book,with a heart of lost love ,I was going do it for dutch lit but seen a number of review so will post in a month or two ,all the best stu

  2. I was pleasantly surprised by this novel. A lot of (older) Dutch literature often focuses on World War II, and so I’m always a bit hesitant to see the same subject tackled. However, this one was subtle and beautiful enough to convince me.

    Thank you so much for your review!

    • Iris – I think this might be only the second book I’ve read by a Dutch author so thank you for hosting your challenge and encouraging me to pick this up!

  3. Pingback: Dutch Literature Month Wrap-Up Post | Iris on Books

  4. “translated books, slim books and books with a wartime setting.” That’s remarkably specific 🙂 Glad you found a book that checked all those boxes. Thank you for the lovely review.
    Loved your blog, and am following you now… please do visit my book blog, and if you like it, please follow 🙂

    • Amritorupa – now that you mention it, that is quite specific! The translated and wartime are perhaps not too hard to come by but there is real skill I think in telling a full story in fewer words. Thank you for your kind words, I look forward to visiting you at your blog 0:)

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