Henri Van Booven

Translated from the original Dutch by Katrien Cokeley Vandegaer

To my mother Johanna van Weel

‘Five young Dutchmen who arrived in Kinchassa at the time of my departure from Brazzaville, were dead on arrival.’

CH. Castellani: ‘Toward the French Nile with the Marchand mission.’

Note from the translator: 

Want to read more? Well this translation is a work in progress. So bear with me, this is an obscure novel, hidden away in the annals of Open Source Dutch literature, and I'm just getting to know it myself. I call dibs on introducing it to the English language world, so I'm launching my translation on this blog:

'Tropical Woe' is my first go at literary translation, and I chose this work for a number of reasons:
- Cultural significance: I was surprised to read that the Low Lands have their own Heart of Darkness! Joseph Conrad's novel is an integral part of world literature, historical narrative, and contemporary film history. His language resonates in Henri Van Booven's descriptions of the equatorial sun's combustion. They used the exact same word to describe the sensation of its light and heat: "unglowing" summarizes how the burning sun interacts with the air and water of the sky and sea. 
- Historical relevance: Our world is marked by racism: then, at the time of brutal colonial oppression, and now, when we are going through an intense time of decolonization, reconciliation and truth. In order to annihilate structural racism for the benefit of our shared future, we seek reparations for all descendants of survivors and victims of colonialism, genocide, forced removal, chattel slavery, war, police brutality and murder, incarceration, executions, redlining, homelessness, and any other crime against humanity, impacting people of color and the poor.
- Personal interest: From a young age I started to wonder why not all people are able to enjoy life on earth, and I began to wish for an end to pollution and the violence of poverty. Since then, my life has been focused on learning about people and institutions. Certain mechanisms of control create intentional divisions among people and justify the most heinous inhumanity. I prefer humanity over any -ism, always.
- Access: The novel is in the public domain, but not known to the general public. Research on it is scarce, so why not elevate it out of obscurity? It may contribute to our attempts to change the world for the better.

Disclaimer: Born white in Flanders Belgium, I am not out of place to translate these words by a Dutch man. I remain true to Henri's archaic phrasing and sentence structures to reflect the time period and to respect the author's intention, style and experience, but I attempt to find the most contemporary word, for terms and phrases that are no longer suitable today, or just plain repulsive. This includes replacing the n-word with black. Racist stereotypes are still prevalent in white cultures: CALL IT OUT! RESTORE DIGNITY!

Katrien Cokeley Vandegaer, April 28 2021