Nooteboom, Cees 1933-

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Nooteboom, Cees 1933-


Surname is pronounced "Noh-te-bohm"; born July 31, 1933, in The Hague, Netherlands; son of Hubertus and Johanna Nooteboom. Education: Educated at an Augustinian monastery school in Eindhoven, Netherlands.


Agent—Aitken & Stone, 29 Fernshaw Rd., London SW10 0TG, England.


Writer and lecturer. Producer of an hour-long film on the pilgrimage to the Spanish shrine at Santiago de Compostela.


Arti et Amicitiae (Amsterdam, The Netherlands).


Pegasus Prize from Mobil Oil Company, 1980, for Rituelen; Regents' lecturer at University of California, Berkeley, 1986-87; Anne Frank Prize; Poetry Prize of the City of Amsterdam; European Literary Prize, 1993, for The Following Story; International Prize Composetela-Xunta de Galicia, IVth edition, 2002.


De doden zoeben een huis (poetry), Querido (Amsterdam, The Netherlands), 1956.

Philip en de anderen (novel), Querido (Amsterdam, The Netherlands), 1956, translation by Adrienne Dixon published as Philip and the Others, Louisiana State University Press (Baton Rouge, LA), 1988.

De verliefde gevangene (fiction), Querido (Amsterdam, The Netherlands), 1958.

Koude gedichten (poetry), Querido (Amsterdam, The Netherlands), 1959.

De Zwanen van de Theems: Toneelstuk in drie bedrijven, Querido (Amsterdam, The Netherlands), 1959.

Het zwarte gedicht (poetry), Querido (Amsterdam, The Netherlands), 1960.

De koning is dood, De Roos (Utrecht, The Netherlands), 1961.

Een middag in Bruay (essays), De Bezige Bij (Amsterdam, The Netherlands), 1963.

De ridder is gestorven (fiction), Querido (Amsterdam, The Netherlands), 1963.

Gesloten gedichten (poetry), De Bezige Bij (Amsterdam, The Netherlands), 1964.

Een nacht in Tunesie, De Bezige Bij (Amsterdam, The Netherlands), 1965.

Een ochtend in Bahia (travel writings), De Bezige Bij (Amsterdam, The Netherlands), 1968.

De Parijse beroerte, De Bezige Bij (Amsterdam, The Netherlands), 1968.

Gemaakte gedichten (poetry), De Bezige Bij (Amsterdam, The Netherlands), 1970.

Bitter Bolivia, Maanland Mali (travel writings; first published in Avenue), De Bezige Bij (Amsterdam, The Netherlands), 1971.

Een avond in Isfahan: Reisverhalen uit Perzie, Gambia, Duitsland, Japan, Engeland, Madeira, en Maleisie (travel writings and biography), Arbeiderspers (Amsterdam, The Netherlands), 1978.

Open als een schelp, dicht als een steen: Gedichten (poetry), Arbeiderspers (Amsterdam, The Netherlands), 1978.

Rituelen (novel), Arbeiderspers (Amsterdam, The Netherlands), 1980, translation by Adrienne Dixon published as Rituals, Louisiana State University Press (Baton Rouge, LA), 1983.

Een lied van schijn en wezen (novel), Arbeiderspers (Amsterdam, The Netherlands), 1981, translation by Adrienne Dixon published as A Song of Truth and Semblance, Louisiana State University Press (Baton Rouge, LA), 1984.

Voorbije passages, Arbeiderspers (Amsterdam, The Netherlands), 1981.

Aas: Gedichten (poetry), Arbeiderspers (Amsterdam, The Netherlands), 1982.

Gyges en Kandaules: Een koningsdrama, Arbeiderspers (Amsterdam, The Netherlands), 1982.

Mokusei! Een liefdesverhaal, Arbeiderspers (Amsterdam, The Netherlands), 1982.

Nooit gebouwd Nederland (nonfiction), edited by Cees de Jong, Frank den Oudsten, and Willem Schilder, Unieboek/Moussault (Weesp, The Netherlands), 1983, translation published as Unbuilt Netherlands: Visionary Projects by Berlage, Ond, Duiker, Van den Broek, Van Eyck, Herzberg, and Others, Rizzoli (New York, NY), 1985.

Waar je gevallen bent, blijf je (essays), Arbeiderspers (Amsterdam, The Netherlands), 1983.

Fantasma, color illustrations by Sjoerd Bakker, Bonnefant (Banholt, The Netherlands), 1983.

In Nederland (novel), Arbeiderspers (Amsterdam, The Netherlands), 1984, translation by Adrienne Dixon published as In the Dutch Mountains, Louisiana State University Press, 1987.

Vuurtijd, ijstijd: Gedichten, 1955-1983 (poetry), Arbeiderspers (Amsterdam, The Netherlands), 1984.

De zucht naar het Westen (title means "The Yearning for the West"; travel writings and biography), Arbeiderspers (Amsterdam, The Netherlands), 1985.

De Boeddha achter de schutting: Aan de oever van de Chaophraya; een verhaal, Kwadraat (Utrecht, The Netherlands), 1986.

De brief, Arbeiderspers (Amsterdam, The Netherlands), 1988.

Het gezicht van het oog, Arbeiderspers (Amsterdam, The Netherlands), 1989.

De wereld een reiziger, Arbeiderspers (Amsterdam, The Netherlands), 1989.

Vreemd water, Arbeiderspers (Amsterdam, The Netherlands), 1991.

Berliner Notizen, Suhrhamp (Frankfurt, Germany), 1991.

Het volgende verhaal, Arbeiderspers (Amsterdam, The Netherlands), 1991; translation by Ina Rilke published as The Following Story, Harcourt Brace (New York, NY), 1994.

Rollende stenen, Stichting Plint (Eindhoven, The Netherlands), 1991.

Zurbaran & Cees Nooteboom, Atlas (Amsterdam, The Netherlands), 1992.

De omweg naar Santiago, Atlas (Amsterdam, The Netherlands), 1992; translation by Ina Rilke published as Roads to Santiago, Harcourt Brace (New York, NY), 1997.

De ontvoering van Europa, Atlas (Amsterdam, The Netherlands), 1993.

De koning van Suriname, M. Muntinga (Amsterdam, The Netherlands), 1993.

Van de lente de dauw: Oosterse reizen, Arbeiderspers (Amsterdam, The Netherlands), 1995.

The Captain of the Butterflies (poetry), translation from the Dutch by Leonard Nathan and Herlinde Spahr, Sun & Moon Press, 1997.

De filosoof zonder ogen: Europese reizen, Arbeiderspers (Amsterdam, The Netherlands), 1997.

Terugkeer naar Berlijn, Atlas (Amsterdam, The Netherlands), 1998.

Allerzielen, Atlas (Amsterdam, The Netherlands), 1998.

Zo kon het zijn: gedichten, Atlas (Amsterdam, The Netherlands), 1999.

Bitterzoet: Honderd gedechten van vroeger en zeventien nieuwe, De Arbeiderspers (Amsterdam, The Netherlands), 2000.

All Souls' Day (novel), translated by Susan Massotty, Harcourt (New York, NY), 2001.

Nomad's Hotel: Travels in Time and Space (memoir), Atlas (Amsterdam, The Netherlands), 2002.

Paradijs Verloren, Atlas (Amsterdam, The Netherlands), 2004, English translation published as Lost Paradise, Grove Press (New York, NY), 2007.

Het Geluid Van Zijn Naam: Reizen Door De Islamitische Wereld, Atlas (Amsterdam, The Netherlands), 2005.

Contributor to Sibylle Bergemann: Photographien, Edition Braus (Heidelberg, Germany), 2006. Also author of two plays. Travel columnist for the Dutch periodicals Avenue and Elsevier's.


Cees Nooteboom is a Dutch poet, travel writer, playwright, and novelist who is best known in the United States for his award-winning fiction. His novel Rituelen received the Pegasus Prize in 1980, and three years later, under the title Rituals, it became Nooteboom's first work to be published in English translation. Two more novels quickly followed; Een lied van schijn en wezen (A Song of Truth and Semblance) and In Nederland (In the Dutch Mountains) were both written during the early 1980s and translated soon after. The author's first novel, Philip en de anderen (Philip and the Others), was written in 1956 but not translated until 1988. Nooteboom has also had some nonfiction published in English, including Nooit gebouwd Nederland (Unbuilt Netherlands), which describes several unrealized projects conceived by Dutch architects.

Nooteboom's fiction is considered remarkable for its exploration of life's incongruities. In the author's highly praised novel Rituals, this exploration takes the form of a comparison between chaos and order. The first of the book's three sections introduces Inni, a wayward, emotionless man whose wife has just left him. The second section describes Inni's encounter ten years earlier with Arnold Taads, a man so obsessed by order that he tries to spend every day exactly alike; and the third section jumps ahead twenty years to show Inni's meeting with Taads's estranged son, who has adopted the ritualistic life of a Japanese tea master. Both father and son live and die—in carefully orchestrated suicides—according to their self-imposed regimens. Throughout the book, Inni encounters impulsive women whose free-spirited lives contrast sharply with those of the disciplined father and son. "The novel itself seems to embody something of both these qualities, randomness and order," observed Linda Barrett Osborne in her Washington Post Book World review. "Told from Inni's point of view," she explained, "it moves, as he does, freely from idea to idea…. At the same time, there are numerous connections among the images and symbols used throughout the book."

New Statesman reviewer Sheila MacLeod, who especially liked the descriptions of the obsessive father and son, called Rituals "an enigmatic and somewhat merciless parable which never fails to compel." Jonathan Keates in the London Observer likewise deemed Rituals an "insidious, elegantly-wrought work," and Osborne praised the book's "passages of clarity, beauty, and vividness" and Nooteboom's "painter's eye." Noting the diversity of the book's characters and the variety of philosophies they illustrate, Osborne concluded: "Reading Rituals is like walking through a very modern, well-proportioned art gallery full of light and air and visually striking paintings, offering a wealth of subjects and perspectives for contemplation…. One could spend days in such a place, or book, pondering the nature of the world, or an hour simply enjoying the skillful craftsmanship."

Nooteboom's next two novels, A Song of Truth and Semblance and In the Dutch Mountains, compare myth and reality by juxtaposing the lives of the books' narrators—who are both authors—with the fictional lives of the characters they create. A Song of Truth and Semblance, in addition, compares the contemplative, insecure narrator, known only as "the writer," with his superficial, confident colleague, called "the other writer." Despite his friend's advice against infusing too much meaning into his work, the writer attempts to answer eternal questions about truth and falsehood through the development of his story's plot. He fails, however, both in answering the questions and in devising a satisfactory conclusion to his story. In a fit of despair he tears up his manuscript and thus nullifies the existence of his imagined world. While calling Nooteboom's handling of the two levels of reality "somehow unsubtle," Times Literary Supplement contributor Toby Fitton praised the "fugal interaction" of the two plot lines and likened their resolutions to those of "mixed doubles tournaments."

Unlike the writer in A Song of Truth and Semblance, the narrator in Nooteboom's next novel, In the Dutch Mountains, knows how his tale will end. The story he writes is a recasting of the fairy tale "The Snow Queen"; it concerns two circus performers, Kai and Lucia, who become separated when Kai is kidnapped by the coldhearted Snow Queen. Lucia and a circus clown journey north to the Snow Queen's castle and, after a series of adventures, succeed in rescuing Kai. "Engaging as this tale is," according to Times Literary Supplement reviewer Savkar Altinel, "[the storyteller's] running commentary on it is even more so." The narrator, Alfonso Tiburon de Mendoza, is a road surveyor by vocation and a writer by avocation. As Alfonso recounts his fairy tale he frequently digresses into musings about etymology, literary genres, the physical construction of roads, and the abstract construction of literary plots. Unlike the writer in A Song of Truth and Semblance, Alfonso feels no compulsion to resolve the mysteries of existence or truth through his characters; instead, he uses the simple, precise genre of the fairy tale to avoid having to explore those issues. When he finishes his story, Alfonso wanders outdoors, plays a game, sits down, and, according to his narration, he stays sitting there "happily ever after."

In the Dutch Mountains was praised as a "charming and compact fable," as Voice Literary Supplement contributor Sven Birkerts called it, and for its lively interplay of the fanciful and the ordinary. Michael Malone, writing for New York Times Book Review, admired the "symbolic, digressive and self-consciously playful" novel and commended the way "a writer as fine as Mr. Nooteboom" manages to hold the reader's interest in both the fairy tale and the narrator's ruminations. Nooteboom's "strange, metaphysical novel is an astonishing achievement," concurred Bernard Levin in his London Sunday Times review. "In fewer than 40,000 words he juggles with reality and meaning, fate and symbol, [and] cold north and hot south." Levin concluded: "[In the Dutch Mountains] is the brilliant and original fruit of a deep (and well-read) imagination."

Several of Nooteboom's other works have also been published in English, including a collection of poetry, titled The Captain of the Butterflies, which critic Frank Allen of Library Journal called "a window on a surreal landscape." The book's poems include many of those Nooteboom penned between 1955 and 1996. According to a contributor for Publishers Weekly, the poems show Nooteboom to be "much concerned with time and the pain of the inexpressible."

The Following Story, Ina Rilke's translation of Nooteboom's 1991 novel, Het volgende verhaal, appeared in English in 1993. The winner of the 1993 European Literary Prize, the novel revolves around the relationship between a middle-aged Latin professor and an unusual student, which ends in tragedy when the student is killed in an automobile accident. Narrated by the professor some twenty years after the accident, the book tackles a number of philosophical questions, including coming to grips with mortality and the vanity of human endeavor. A critic for Publishers Weekly called the work a "baffling postmodernist fable." According to the narrator, the book is "about how an immeasurable space of memories can be stored in the most minute timespan." Several critics lauded the effort. "Nooteboom presents the reader with a wonderfully ironic and highly allusive tale. Its complexities are carefully interwoven," wrote Arie Staal of World Literature Today. According to Guy Mannes-Abbot of the New Statesman & Society, the book "has a compelling energy and rare elegance to equal its extraordinary ambitions."

Rilke also translated Roads to Santiago, a book of essays that Nooteboom wrote about Spain and its people. Calling Spain his "adopted country," Nooteboom takes the reader from Barcelona to Santiago on a pilgrimage to see the tomb of St. James, just as Christian pilgrims did in the twelfth century. Along the route, Nooteboom takes many detours, visiting the people and institutions of the Spanish countryside. For example, in one essay he provides anecdotes and personal observations about the Prado museum in Madrid. In other essays, Nooteboom simply reflects on Spanish culture and his appreciation for it. A number of critics enjoyed the effort, including Brad Santiago, writing in Booklist, who felt Nooteboom refracted "all his observations through keen senses of history and human nature." Richard L. Kagan, who reviewed the book for the New York Times, called the author "a solitary traveler caught in an extended reverie, a dreamer for whom every monument, every work of art transforms itself into a memory palace that unlocks Spain's history."

Nooteboom's novel All Souls' Day, translated by Susan Massotty, is a contemplative story about the growing relationship between two lovers who are both haunted by earlier traumatic events. In typical Nooteboom fashion, the novel is filled with philosophical and reflective ramblings about history, art, and the meaning of life, which are as important to the work as the love affair of its protagonists. Critic Patrick Sullivan, who reviewed All Souls' Day for the Library Journal, commented on this duality, calling the work "part love story, part novel of ideas." Sullivan went on to refer to the work as "an imposing and richly nuanced novel." Other critics, however, including a contributor for Publishers Weekly, felt the work was too convoluted. "More enervating than invigorating, the book fails to communicate the vitality of a life of thought," the contributor wrote.

In 2007, Nooteboom's novel Paradijs Verloren, translated by Susan Massotty, was published in the United States as Lost Paradise. The title alludes to John Milton's classic epic poem Paradise Lost, which portrays the fall of man: the temptation of Adam and Eve by Satan and their expulsion from the Garden of Eden after they have broken their covenant with God. In his book, Nooteboom "uses earthbound notions of hell and paradise" to create a story about two people who encounter each other fleetingly, twice, with many years between the two incidents. "Along the way, he brazenly explores notions of reinvention, healing, loss and the divine," stated Tom Barbash in a review for the New York Times Book Review Online.

The book's first half is narrated by Alma, a dreamy, well-to-do young Brazilian art student who has always been somewhat obsessed with angels. One morning Alma impulsively drives into one of the city's most dangerous areas, seeking some kind of thrill. While there she is brutally assaulted by a gang of men. Seeking healing after the attack, Alma sets off on a journey through Australia in search of Aboriginal art. She eventually ends up taking part in a literary event that requires her to play the part of an angel to be discovered in a kind of scavenger hunt. The novel's second half focuses on Erik Zontag, a literary critic who first sees Alma in her angel costume, then meets her again years later when she is working as a masseuse in a spa. "Nooteboom's characters are gripping, his dialogue humorous and his narrative brimming with musings about identity and redemption," said Jennifer Vanderbes in a review for the Washington Post Book World Online. Eric Allen Hatch, commenting on the book for the Metro Times Detroit Online, stated: "You can count on Nooteboom to deliver some vividly drawn passages of great beauty, as well as his own very peculiar sensibility." Lost Paradise is both "delicate and chiseled," according to a Publishers Weekly reviewer, who further described it as a work that creates "a dreamlike suspension of time and place."



Encyclopedia of World Literature in the Twentieth Century, Volume 3, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.

Nooteboom, Cees, Nomad's Hotel: Travels in Time and Space, Atlas (Amsterdam, The Netherlands), 2002.


Booklist, March 15, 1997, Brad Hooper, review of Roads to Santiago, p. 1221; July 1, 2007, Keir Graff, review of Lost Paradise, p. 29.

Dallas Morning News, December 5, 2007, review of Lost Paradise.

Entertainment Weekly, October 19, 2007, Hannah Tucker, review of Lost Paradise, p. 133.

Kirkus Reviews, October 1, 2001, review of All Souls' Day, p. 1387; August 15, 2007, review of Lost Paradise.

Library Journal, April 15, 1997, David Schau, review of Roads to Santiago, p. 105; July, 1997, Frank Allen, review of The Captain of the Butterflies, p. 72; August, 2001, Patrick Sullivan, review of All Souls' Day, p. 163; August 1, 2007, Reba Leading, review of Lost Paradise, p. 72.

New Statesman, December 21, 1984, Sheila MacLeod, review of Rituals, p. 52; July 16, 2007, "Self Centred," p. 64.

New York Times Book Review, October 11, 1987, Michael Malone, review of In the Dutch Mountains, p. 42; April 6, 1997, Richard L. Kagan, review of Roads to Santiago, p. 26.

Observer (London, England), February 17, 1985, review of Rituals, p. 26.

Publishers Weekly, June 30, 1997, review of The Captain of the Butterflies, p. 72; October 8, 2001, review of All Souls' Day, p. 41; June 4, 2007, review of Lost Paradise, p. 25.

Sunday Times (London, England), May 22, 1987, Bernard Levin, review of In the Dutch Mountains.

Times Literary Supplement, December 28, 1984, review of Rituals, p. 1506; January 8, 1988, review of In the Dutch Mountains, p. 29.

Voice Literary Supplement, December, 1987, review of In the Dutch Mountains, p. 3.

Washington Post Book World, June 26, 1983, review of Rituals, p. 9.

World Literature Today, fall, 1996, Arie Staal, review of The Following Story, p. 974; March 1, 2006, Jose Lanters, review of Paradijs Verloren, p. 55.


Metro Times Detroit Online, (December 19, 2007), Eric Allen Hatch, review of Lost Paradise.

New York Review of Books Online, (March 6, 2008), J.M. Coetzee, review of Lost Paradise.

New York Times Book Review Online, (December 9, 2007), Tom Barbash, review of Lost Paradise.

San Francisco Chronicle Online, (October 22, 2007), Charles May, review of Lost Paradise.

Washington Post Book World Online, (November 4, 2007), Jennifer Vanderbes, review of Lost Paradise, p. BW14.