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Dutch author Harry Mulisch dies at 83

October 31, 2010 |  6:18 am

Harry Mulisch
Harry Mulisch, the Dutch author best known for his novels “The Discovery of Heaven” and “The Assault,” which became an Oscar-winning film, has died. He was 83.

His publisher said Mulisch died Saturday at his home in Amsterdam, where he had lived since 1958. He had cancer.

“With his death, the Netherlands loses one of its greatest literary sons,” said Robbert Ammerlaan, director of noted Dutch publishing company De Bezige Bij, in a statement Sunday. “Harry Mulisch leaves behind a peerless and unparalleled oeuvre.”

Born in Haarlem, the Netherlands, on July 29, 1927, to an Austrian-Hungarian father and a Jewish mother from Antwerp, Mulisch’s own life came to reflect the turbulent 1930s and war-torn '40s.

“I didn’t so much experience the war,” he once wrote. “I am the Second World War.”

His father, Karl, an army officer, had emigrated after Austria-Hungary was defeated in World War I. After Karl’s marriage to Alice Schwarz ended in divorce in 1936, Harry stayed with his father and was raised mostly by the family housekeeper. He grew up during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands.

During the war, Karl Mulisch worked at a bank that handled confiscated Jewish assets. His connections helped protect his son and ex-wife from being deported to Nazi concentration camps. After liberation, he was sent to an internment camp for three years for having collaborated with the occupying power.

For his son, the war became a recurring theme in novels, from “Het Stenen Bruidsbed” (“The Stone Bridal Bed”) in 1959 to “De Aanslag” (“The Assault”) in 1982 and “Siegfried” in 2001.

“De Aanslag” describes the coming of age of Anton Steenwijk, a boy whose family was killed by the Germans in retaliation for the murder of a collaborator. The sole survivor, Anton later tries to piece together what happened that fateful day. Translated into more than 20 languages, the book was made into a Dutch film that won both an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for best foreign-language movie.

Mulisch published what was considered his greatest work, “De Ontdekking van de Hemel” (“The Discovery of Heaven”), in 1992. Bringing together mystical, biblical and historical themes, the plot pivots on how humanity has disappointed God, who now wants to withdraw his contract with man as set out in the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments.

Mulisch receivedseveral awards, including the P.C. Hooft Prize in 1977 and the Dutch Literature Prize in 1995. In 2007, he received an honorary doctorate from the University of Amsterdam, which he considered his crowning achievement -- “at least, as long as I haven’t received a Nobel Prize yet,” he was quoted as saying.

-- Bloomberg

Photo: Harry Mulisch in October 2008. Credit: Robin Utrecht / EPA