henk van woerden
Henk Van Woerden



HENK VAN WOERDEN was born in the Netherlands but spent his teenage years in South Africa in Cape Town. After his return to the Netherlands he became a writer and an artist. He has published TIKOES and MOENIE KYK NIE, which won the Geertjan Lubberhuizen Prize. EEN MOND VOL GLAS was shortlisted for the GENERALE BANK PRIZE. The Frans Kellendonk Prize is awarded once every three years to a writer in recognition of the quality of his entire oeuvre. Van Woerden has contributed to Granta, Lettre Internationale and NRC Handelsblad and is an internationally acclaimed artist whose work hangs in several European museums.

Henk tragically passed away in his sleep on November 16th 2005 whilst based at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbour, where he was writer in residence.



Ultramarine (Ultramarijn)

WINNER OF THE INKTAAP 2007 (selected by students from three books that have already been awarded major prizes)


Van Woerden's new novel is set somewhere between east and west, in a cultural borderland. Joakim, grows up in the 1950’s in an obscure port on the eastern seaboard of the Mediterranean. With the bustle and the fissures of a small cosmopolitan town as a backdrop, the impressionable Joakim develops a passion for his half-sister Aysel, a flamboyant and self-determined young woman with a penchant for cuisine and risky love affairs. When they are found out, he is banished to a boy’s camp. Being sent away among men is his worst nightmare and turns out to be irreversible. When he returns to the town a pogrom has taken place with scores of people killed. Aysel is missing, presumed dead. These events set him on course for a career as a lute-player and singer in the concert halls – and ultimately in the seedy dives – of the capital.


Aysel has survived the riots; she has been transported to the suburbs of a bleak German city ‘to be forgotten among strangers’. In a delicately woven parallel account of their two lives, Van Woerden sketches a landscape of desire, art and politics in the classical sense. Will circumstances ever bring them together? On the surface a story of love and longing, beneath the skin, however, it is a haunting account of the history of the eastern Mediterranean in the latter half of the twentieth century: the imminent loss of a great culinary and non-western musical tradition as well as the defeat of a sensuality based on melancholy; the impending gain of polluted beaches, popular visual culture, and turboprop sex. Joakim the once famed musician ends up in a seaside hotel with twelve rooms, in each of which he has bedded a tourist – both men and women - for whom he felt no particular yearning; yearning has become a thing of the past, that is: until ‘she’ turns up.


ULTRAMARIJN provides a scintillating evocation of the eastern Mediterranean, eventually reuniting the lost lovers in a way that elevates the novel to near mythical status. A kaleidoscopic story of broad scope, evocative, wistful and sensual too.


‘It is thrilling how close a novel can come to reality. This is not just a painful and beautiful book, it is also a necessary one.’ Parool

'Looking back now over the tragically foreshortened life of Henk van Woerden, one is astounded by the meteoric speed and brightness of his trajectory as an artist, a photographer and a writer. He moved between disciplines of creation and from genre to genre - always with the same nearly ruthless honesty, sympathy and intelligence, and with playfulness as well - to the fullness of his talents and the complexity of heart and mind encapsulated in Ultramarine. Henk van Woerden was a child of this terrible and beautiful earth we inhabit, and from nowhere. We looked at the burning light of his profoundly compassionate creativity, knowing that it will bring deeper worlds to our attention through word and through image. His absence is a darkness in the eye.' Breyten Breytenbach

‘Van Woerden writes with an effortless ease that contains everything: finesse, narrative, warmth and wisdom. Captivatingly powerful, this is a book of unparalleled beauty, precise and penetrating. It is a novel so rich, so perfect, a novel that demands to be reread and that will continue giving meaning and revealing secrets for all time. Simply masterful.’ Financieel Dagblad


‘Van Woerden invests his book with a sort of universal primal force. He searches for more than interpersonal explanations – he touches the unknowable, the mysterious. It makes his book wonderful, intriguing, and, at times, a little beyond our grasp.’ Trouw


'If Van Woerden intended this book to be his masterpiece, he can be reassured. An intense novel that provokes thought and wonder.' NRC Handlesblad


Podium NL (original publisher)


Actes Sud France


Ullstein Buchverlage Germany


Tiderne Skifter Denmark


Gyldendal Norsk Norway


Mlada Fronta Czech Republic


Shanghai Publishing China


Everest Turkey


Material: finished copies (288pp).

Notes From An Air Cyclist (Notities Can Een Luchtfietser)
Van Woerden's new book considers travel in the mind as much as in 'reality'. Every journey is somehow already prepared for, as if it has a blueprint in the soul. In this way we visit Nantes, New York, Oudtshoorn, Isfahan, or Enschede. Simultaneously, however, Van Woerden takes us through the intriguing lands of fantasy, on the hunt for the meaning of homesickness, the expression of 'national' feeling, and the influence of landscape on art. Why did surrealism come from Brittany not Nebraska? Where can you find the most beautiful tree house in the Lowlands? Can a dog feel nostalgia, as a human being does? Written in Van Woerden's inimitable style, this is a moving and often hilarious book.
Podium NL (original publisher)




A Mouthful Of Glass (Een Mond Vol Glas)

Winner of the Sunday Times Alan Paton Award & the Frans Kellendonk Prize 2003


In 1966 Demitrios Tsafendas killed the South African premier Hendrik Verwoerd and while Verwoerd went down in history as the architect of apartheid, his murderer stayed in the shadows, until today. In this powerful book Henk Van Woerden reconstructs the life of Tsafendas and gives a personal, intimate and insider account of the South African trauma, then and now.


Demitrios Tsafendas was born half-Greek, half-African, in colonial Mozambique, a world defined by racial prejudice. Van Woerden describes the man’s flight from country to country and his failure to fit anywhere. He was Christian, communist, Coloured, black, white. Rejection and disintegration went together; by the end he was taking orders from creatures dwelling in his body. He longed to belong. Was this his madness? Van Woerden unravels the assassin’s strange, affecting history - the sad and desperate life of a man who went everywhere and belonged nowhere.


This is a masterpiece that completely transcends any obstacles of subject matter.

A fine piece of narrative writing, pared down to essentials, balancing fact and imaginative recreation with great care and integrity. The prose is beautiful and the story is one that never has been told before culminating in an act that changed history. The stabbing of Hendrik Verwoerd was one of the most important and dramatic political assassinations in modern history.


'Only van Woerden would succeed in redefining the country’s history in this way. He has managed to extricate Tsafendas from obscurity, out of prevailing, shameful silence; so that we may be acquainted with the man in all his particular humanity.' Breyten Breytenbach


'A thoroughly successful blend of biography and fiction, suggesting in intriguing ways how a new history of South Africa can be written.' J. M. Coetzee


'It is a picture both astute and sickening, both moving and grotesque, as the freedom of the two main players comes to be defined more in terms of the only choice they have left - their different kinds of madness.' Andre Brink


'This book is Tsafendas’ biography, but it is also a work of exceptional imagination.' Justin Cartwright


Podium NL (original publisher)


Granta (WEL)


Metropolitan USA


Queillerie South Africa


Gyldendal Norsk Norway


Berlin Verlag & Lettre International Germany (extract)


Tiderne Skifter Denmark


Actes Sud France


Grijalbo Mondadori Spain


Temas e Debates Portugal


Radio BBC World Service


Ancora del Mediterraneo Italy


Kedros Greece

Adapted as a play & directed by Sir Anthony Sher entitled ‘I.D’ at the Almeida in London.


Material: finished copies.


In Tikoes Henk van Woerden weaves the relationships together: one with a woman and one with a country. Against the chaotic backdrop of south Africa the story unfolds of a seemingly frivolous travel companion, realised by a narrator who stands between two continents. The young Tikoes is no less beautiful than the homeland, but both 'loves' are marked by a violent past that sharpens the dilemma of the return.


‘An Amorous book.’ Henneke Groenteman

’Van Woerden shows himself to be a writer who, in an almost laconic manner, can tell glittering story, in a language that sparkles with meaning and is evidence of great stylistic control.’ Jury Libris Prize

’Documented reality is touched and recreated by the imagination of a great writer.’
Elsbeth Etty

Podium NL
Moenie Kyk Nie

Portrays the fate of a Dutch family that emigrated to South Africa in the fifties. The first person narrator is then nine years old. His mother dies not long after their arrival in a land torn apart by the 'classical apartheid', and his father starts a relationship with a younger woman. As well as a portrait of displacement in the African land, this novel is the history of an eye. The two different eyes of the young protagonist - the blind one, missing; and the eagerly observing one - give this moving story a distorted perspective, which gradually begins to stand for the split personality of the country.


’Moenie Kyk Nie needed to be written exactly the way it is written, perfect to the smallest detail. That's what makes it a dream debut.’ Elsbeth Etty

’Your pen is as good as your brush.’ Adriaan van Dis


Podium reissued Van Woerden’s brilliant debut novel MOENIE KYK NIE in December 2000. MOENIE KYK NIE won the Geertjan Lubberhuizen Prize and was shortlisted for the Libris and together with TIKOES form a trilogy of which MOUTHFUL OF GLASS is the final part.


Podium NL