Dutch Language Blog

Book Review: The Institute Posted by on Feb 28, 2018 in Uncategorized

The novel Het instituut by Vincent Bijlo covered this month’s Dutch-literature fix, and it was an unexpected delight!

Photo taken by Sebastiaan ter Burg found on Flickr.com with license CC BY 2.0

About the writer

Vincent Bijlo is, in summary, a jack of all trades! He is a stand-up comedian, a columnist, a musician and a writer! He studied Dutch language and literature at the University of Utrecht and quickly made his way into the stand-up comedy world.

Bijlo’s experience in writing is quite vast. He wrote two plays: “Made in Braille” in 1989 and Het nieuwe nu more recently. He is also a regular columnist for the AD, Algemeen Dagblad, and he has also written four novels. Het instituut is the first one. It was published in 1998 followed by Achttienhoog in 2001, De woordvoerder in 2003 and finally De ottomaanse herder in 2009.

In the following video, Bijlo talks about the Dutch identity for a late night TV show.

Het instituut

Het instituut tells the story of Otto Iking, an outsider in a boarding school for the blind. Otto is very much an observer throughout the novel; he has a very keen sense of who everyone is including himself. Through his narration, Otto makes the reader question the notions we have of blind people or those who are, as the book states, not able-bodied. One of the classes Otto must take is about life skills such as making a fried egg or tea. Otto understands the practicality of these classes, but at the same time wonders if there isn’t more he could be learning.

Otto uses his very one radio talk show, made of improvised materials, to discuss his observations. While he might not like everyone in the school, he has a strong sense of right and wrong. When one of his friend’s sister is kidnapped by a group of Moluccans, Otto quickly makes a plan with his friend to liberate the sister. He doesn’t care that the plan requires stealing because his mind is focused on the overall goodness of the plan.

The following is an excerpt from the novel. You can read the full excerpt via this link from the Holland Park Press website.

Harm was mijn voorbeeld. Harm was de blindste der blinden, de superblinde. Harm kon alles, en wat hij niet kon ging hij nog kunnen.
Ik kon minder, maar leerde van Harm. Hij had een voorsprong, want hij was op zijn tweede pas blind geworden, en dat scheelde, zei hij, dan kon je al meer. Een tumor had hem het zicht in beide ogen ontnomen. Ik had geen idee wat een tumor was, maar hij kon er heel interessant over vertellen en er zelfs de ergste mensen mee tot een eerbiedig stilzwijgen brengen.

Harm had glazen ogen. Dat had hem onder ziende kinderen veel faam bezorgd. Eén keer mocht hij met ons mee op vakantie. Dat hebben mijn ouders geweten. ’s Morgens om acht uur stond er al een troep krijsende kinderen voor het raam van onze slaapkamer die eiste dat Harm zijn ogen zou uitdoen. Mijn moeder werd toen zo kwaad dat zij hem bijna een blauw oog sloeg. Dat feest ging niet door want hij had ze net uit, zijn ogen.

Bijlo has a very interesting writing style that mixes serious observations with humor. Growing up isn’t easy for anyone, and Otto’s life, while different in so many ways, is also the life of a coming-of-age boy trying to figure out who he is.

Last year, Het instituut was republished in Dutch. An English translation was also published. The Dutch embassy in London celebrated the occasion. The following video is from that party.

Are you familiar with Vincent Bijlo? What do you think of his style?

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About the Author: Karoly Molina

Since I was a little girl, I was fascinated with languages and writing. I speak English, Spanish, Italian, Dutch and a little bit of French. I am a writer, reader, language teacher, traveler, and a food lover! I now live in The Netherlands with my husband Riccardo, our cat Mona, and our dog Lisa, and the experience has been phenomenal. The Dutch culture is an exciting sometimes topsy-turvy world that I am happily exploring!