World Languages Review: Op de rand van het zwijgen (The Netherlands)

On the verge of silence 

Although we live in a society full of means of communication that are hardly ever shut off – modern mankind finds itself still having difficulties and misunderstandings in simple person-to-person conversations. We talk in images that are clear to us, but frequently incomprehensible to those we are talking to. When a poet like Akim A.J. Willems reaches this conclusion and decides to take it to a higher level – that is, convert rarely understood images into poetry – the result is a bundle of untitled poems like those in Op de rand van het zwijgen. 

To the unsuspecting reader, beginning to read this book is like entering a small museum. There are only three rooms, the sections into which Op de rand van het zwijgen is divided. In each room, the reader encounters images of daily life situations painted in an almost surrealist way. Strange images it seems, but each of them so very recognizable.

Of course, the concise style applied by the author also helps to lend more meaning to the title of this superb masterpiece that easily matches works of other, already famous Flemish poets. As a matter of fact, we just might have the beginning of a poetic era in our very hands. Not many poets have the courage to demonstrate their own, very personal style right at their debut. Willems has. And not only has he got individuality to show, he merges his poems with a seldom seen understanding of speech as an inter-human phenomenon.

It would be a truly great mistake not to read and buy this book just because it is written in a minority language – Dutch. The future will need great translators to get this book across the language borders. But these translators will rise, and they will indulge in all the linguistic finesses represented here.

Op de rand van het zwijgen
Akim A.J. Willems
Uitgeverij Vrijdag
ISBN: 9789460017841

Review by Jan Oldenburg – Translator of Dutch and German literature for Brazil, also translates Brazilian literature into Dutch and English

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