Henk Van Woerden

Nominated for the Libris Prize
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)