A coming-of-age story set during the liberation of the Dutch East Indies.
At the end of the war, Nell is released from a Japanese internment camp in Java. While searching for her father in the chaos, she meets Tim, a young man who is looking for his family too. Nell’s journey takes her first to Singapore then to a new life and new friends in Sydney, Australia. But although Tim may well be the love of her life, her father puts her on a passenger liner bound for the Netherlands. Will Nell really be able to settle in a country she’s never known – and will she ever see Tim again?
Based on the true story of Nora Valk, this is an exciting tale of courage and friendship, hope and determination, about the search for love and a place to finally call home.
Translated by Ernestine Hoegen
I was fifteen and I had never kissed a boy. Of course, there were no boys of my age to kiss, because I was living in a dreadful internment camp, deep in the jungle, somewhere in the mountains beyond Semarang. We were prisoners of the Japanese army, which had occupied the island of Java a few years before, forcing many of us Westerners into detention camps, like this one at Ambarawa. It’s not a place I like to think about, now, as life there was harsh and sometimes cruel. We all prayed for the war to be over, so we could go back home to our house in Jogjakarta. But then, not long after the Japs surrendered, the day came when my aunt told me quietly, ‘Nell, we’re leaving, tomorrow. Make sure you pack everything and you’re ready to go.’
You’d think I would have been excited and had all my stuff packed in a flash. But no, I really didn’t want to go. You see, I couldn’t abandon my mother, who lay all alone in a bamboo coffin under the ground. She had been buried in the open field beside the yard, where we used to stand in rows for hours every morning to bow to the Japs. She’d been dead for three months by then. But still, I found it hard to leave.
Aunt Karly explained to me that the allies had dropped bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in Japan, which had ended the war. But the Japs were still there in the camp because they had to protect us from the Indonesian people, who wanted their independence from the Dutch. I hated politics. And all the strife. It only led to war. And you lost the people you loved the most.
Thank you, Syl van Duyn and Love Books Group
About the author
Syl van Duyn is author of four Dutch language children’s books: ‘Hallo Aarde, Hier Maan’ (2001), ‘Mijn Zus is een Flussemus’ (2002), ‘Angels’ (2008) and ‘Op zoek naar jou’ (2015), as well as an adult non-fiction book based on the columns she wrote for the Dutch magazine Margriet (‘Een kwetsbaar bestaan’ (2001). She works for the Dutch broadcasting network VPRO, selecting and purchasing documentaries, and lives in Amsterdam.
About the translator
Ernestine Hoegen has translated Girl out of Place by Syl van Duyn from Dutch into English. She has also written a biography of Dutchwoman Mieke Bouman (Unieboek | Spectrum) 2020. She worked as a public prosecutor before turning to writing, translating and editing full-time in 2017. She lives near Arnhem.