Dutch author Harry Mulisch dies

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Posted: Oct 31, 2010 10:40 AM
Dutch author Harry Mulisch dies

Harry Mulisch, who turned his experiences as the son of a Jewish mother and a Nazi collaborator father into some of the Netherlands' most renowned works of fiction, has died at his home in Amsterdam. He was 83.

Mulisch's 1982 novel "The Assault" was seen as helping the Dutch come to terms with the German occupation of the Netherlands during World War II. It looks at the difficulty of attributing innocence and guilt to those who resisted the Nazis, those who cooperated with them, and the many who didn't take sides.

Mulisch once famously remarked, "I didn't so much experience the Second World War. I am the Second World War."

The author, who died late Saturday, was best-known outside Holland for his novels "The Discovery of Heaven" and "The Assault," which were made into films. "The Assault" won the best foreign picture Oscar in 1986.

Mulisch became a fixture in the Dutch literary scene within years of the war and embraced his reputation for self-importance.

"I'm a great writer and there's not a blessed thing anybody can do about it," he said once. On the back of the cover of one of his books, he placed a photo of himself on vacation in Italy with the caption "From left to right: Mount Vesuvius, Harry Mulisch."

He often mentioned expectations of receiving the Nobel Prize for literature.

Many of Mulisch's early works portrayed people in wartime, reflecting his own teenage years during World War II. His father, an Austrian immigrant, worked in a German-controlled bank and dealt with looted Jewish assets, including art. He was able to use his influence to save Harry's mother _ but not her parents _ from deportation and death in Nazi gas chambers. He was imprisoned for several years after the war as a collaborator.

"The Assault" has become a cornerstone of Dutch literature. It centers on a Dutch boy whose family was slaughtered by the Germans in retaliation for the murder of a collaborator _ but the attack was carried out by members of the resistance. Later in life the man tries sort out who was guilty of what, including many of the family's immediate neighbors.

"We all grew up with Harry Mulisch," said Prime Minister Mark Rutte, calling him a "true intellectual who nonetheless was able to win the hearts of a large reading public."

Mulisch's novels have complicated plots and are often sprinkled with science, philosophy, and arcane subjects such as alchemy. He often left quotations in other languages untranslated.

"I don't care about readers. A novel is not communication with the public, but with the novel, and so with myself," he said in a 2001 interview.

Yet his prose, especially in his later career, was renowned for its clarity and directness.

"Language may never come between the reader and reality," he said.

The 1992 novel "The Discovery of Heaven," which Mulisch considered his masterpiece and was voted "the best Dutch book ever" by newspaper readers in the Netherlands in a 2007 poll, explores the relationship between man, science and god, as an angel attempts to influence a man to return the tablets bearing the Ten Commandments to heaven.

Mulisch received every major award available in the Netherlands, praising a 2007 honorary doctorate from the University of Amsterdam as the best "at least, as long as I still don't have the Nobel Prize."

He is survived by his wife and their two daughters, and his current partner and their son.