Menán van Heerden and Naomi Meyer chat to Dutch writer Ernest van der Kwast about his March 2018 visit.
South Africans can see you at the Woordfees festival this year. Have you visited South Africa before? Please tell us about your previous visits, or some highlights.
This is the first time I’ll be visiting South Africa. Of course, I have read some books by South African authors: JM Coetzee, Antjie Krog, Gert Vlok Nel, Breyten Breytenbach.
In your own country, you are very famous, but please tell South Africans who might be uninformed about your oeuvre: what you write, what interests you and why.
I write novels and like to tell stories. Often, there is a struggle in my books. For example, in The ice-cream makers (2015), the son of a fourth generation ice cream maker wants to break from the family tradition and become an editor for a poetry festival. Also, Ernest in the autobiographical novel Mama Tandoori (2010) struggles. It is his mother’s dream that he becomes a doctor or a lawyer, but he wants to become a writer. Also, there is often a lot of love in my stories. There is a lyrical, drunk Russian inside of me!
You were born in Mumbai, India. How does the country of your birth influence your oeuvre?
I have written a novel about my Indian mother: Mama Tandoori (2010). But, my next book won’t include her or my Indian background. Maybe in a couple of years, I want to write a book about the history of my mother’s family, the long journey they have made (as refugees) after the partition. I would like to walk this road with my mother.
Tell us more about one of your recent publications.
My latest book is called Jouw toekomst is mijn toekomst (2017) and contains the stories of four students with a refugee background. These are courageous stories that offer a different perspective on people who have made the crossing to Europe.
South Africa is a country far removed from your own. Do you see connections? Or differences? Also, regarding the reading culture?
I live in Rotterdam, and I think South Africa is incomparable with any European city. But, there is a lot of segregation here, as well. Fighting this is the biggest challenge of the future.
Is there anything else that you would like to attend at the Woordfees festival this year?
I’m looking forward to meeting other (young) South African writers!