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The Ten Thousand Things
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The Ten Thousand Things

3.8 of 5 stars 3.80  ·  rating details  ·  514 ratings  ·  111 reviews
The central place of the novel is a spice garden on one of the islands of the East Indies. The central character is Felicia, who was taken away from the spice garden as a child to wander the fashionable resorts of Europe, and who. after many years, returns to the island with her young son. This is her story and the story of the people who touch her life: the colonials of t ...more
Published July 1967 by Ballantine Books (first published 1955)
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Chances are you haven’t heard of Maria Dermoût before, especially if you don’t read Dutch. She left behind a small body of work -- two novels, both published when she was in her 60s, and five short story collections. It appears that throughout most of her life, writing was something she engaged in for herself, perhaps a way to maintain a sense of stability in a life full of motion. It is fortunate for us that she finally published her work, as her writing is atmospheric, mysterious, balanced pre ...more

Stories often begin in a garden. Gardens for the origin of our species; gardens for the childhood of our lives; or a garden to which one’s soul is bound. The garden of the Ten Thousand Things however, is not like Eden, for together with the beguiling casuarina trees of the singing branches and the long dropping needles, there are ghosts.

This is the first of the two novels written by Maria Dermoût (1888-1962). She was a Dutch woman who was born and raised in the Eastern colonies of her country, i

Slowly they had become the only ones left from the past, the only ones who knew everything, had gone through everything.

A happy coincidence greeted me when I finished reading the first part of this book, The Island. The atmosphere it portrayed was redolent of the mystifying air surrounding the narrative of Pedro Páramo and after a quick search it turned out that both of these works were first published in 1955. Apart from the thematic similarities and soulful writing, it’s the panorama of a sce
The trouble began with words, really.

No longer was something a thing in essence. For neither world nor time has the patience for lists of reinvention, a praxis on praxis where the slightest shift required a churning and blooming of sui generis for that one birth, that one core. World and time, so long as human muddies up the lines in hasty life and mortal unease, needs condense.

But also stretch, for both world and time are vast unknowns dripping with fragrant allurements for the passing human,
The Ten Thousand Things is a slow atmospheric story which rewards patience and a slow lingering over the sparse detail. It is a story less of things that are now, but of things which have long ago passed away.
It is a mess, but it is a beautiful mess. I feel the book but I don't know what it is saying exactly. That is the best kind. The structure is unconventional; reading it, I had no idea how to read it, which is a nice feeling: it is the feeling of reading the very first novel. And then there are the things from the title, the imbued significance (though, thankfully, not symbolism) of things, the aura and magic, the legends and rumors, the history and narrative: the things that compose a life. And ...more
Friederike Knabe
The "Small Garden" at the Inner Bay, a picturesque place where the views, the smells, sounds and colours, "held her, slowly enveloped her, showed her things, whispered her its secrets..." It is a place where time can stand still, where past and present and future, perhaps?, can fuse into one unifying image. The "lady of the Small Garden" likes to wander along its paths, or resting somewhere in the shade, letting her mind go back in time, remembering those before her who lived here and those who ...more
This is a tiny little book and it's a bit of a muddle of beauty and strangeness. There's a lot to love, and most of what's here works. It's not a new favorite for me, but I'm glad to have read it.

Dermout's finest gift is her description. Her language is very visual and every part of this novel is easy to picture - from the various island locations, to the characters' appearances and mannerisms, to the events that take place. The most immersive moments that I found myself deep inside of were: wh
Jan Priddy
I tried very hard to love this book, but I simply don't. I kept waiting for characters to care about, the much lauded magic and description to draw me in, some sort of coherent story. I couldn't find it. It may be the fault of my reading and perhaps another time… but I think this novel just didn't work for me. Where was the "shimmering strangeness" I was promised? There are far more powerful examples of magic realism, a style I do enjoy.

Too much was missing: coherence, of course; characters I
Laura Leaney
This is my favorite book of the year. Mostly set on one of the islands in the Maluccas, or Spice Islands, in a place called the Small Garden (not so small!) the ancient matriarch (not so old!) of a Dutch family lives alone with the most lovely things: antique cabinets full of special shells, gold pins, a "little cat's-eye for dreams" a "gold apple, carved out in fretwork, with a ball of amber inside which she had made herself," spices, and curiosities like the "snake with the carbuncle stone." H ...more
Jenny (Reading Envy)
The publisher description probably says it best:

The Ten Thousand Things is a novel of shimmering strangeness—the story of Felicia, who returns with her baby son from Holland to the Spice Islands of Indonesia, to the house and garden that were her birthplace, over which her powerful grandmother still presides. There Felicia finds herself wedded to an uncanny and dangerous world, full of mystery and violence, where objects tell tales, the dead come and go, and the past is as potent as the present
Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist"
This is a strange little novel that very nearly has a plot. I had to reach the final page before I figured out that the entire book is a study of loss. It takes place in the Moluccas (Spice Islands) near the end of Dutch colonial rule. Much of what happens parallels the author's life, and the book almost feels like a cathartic exercise rather than a novel. It's slow going, relying almost entirely on expository narration, but the author's powers of description are impressive.
It is difficult to believe that “The Ten Thousand Things”, written languorously and set in a place that defines faraway, once occupied the Best Seller List alongside “Dr. Zhivago” and “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”. Rather than Pasternak and Capote, the writer who “The Ten Thousand Things” evokes most is the Faulkner of “Absalom, Absalom”, with its decaying families in decrepit mansions, its characters who destroy themselves at the intersection of ambition and illusion. In lieu of Thomas Sutpen fleein ...more
I found the language to be beautiful, in what I believe to be an excellent translation (written by a Dutch author and translated by another Dutch author). The main story, that of Felicia, the lady of the Small Garden, is compelling. The setting, the Moluccas islands in Indonesia, takes on a life of its own - the Small Garden, the inner bay, the outer bay are all characters in the book in their own right.

My only dislike was the organization of the book, particularly the third section. The first a
Ce Ce
Ethereal. Poetic. Beautifully rendered lament of loss that celebrates life.
Sep 20, 2007 Anna rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: be included in the canon.
I can't believe how overlooked this book is. Simply captivating.
Like L.M. Boston, Maria Dermout is distinguished by her strong sense of place, her depth of emotion, and her beautiful prose. This is a quiet and devastatingly sad book; it won't be for everyone, but those who do "get" it will surely love it deeply. Briefly, it is an autobiographical novel; the story of Felicia, a Dutch Indonesian woman living in a somewhat decayed spice garden. We meet Felicia as a small girl, and again as a young woman, and then as a woman in late middle age. Gradually we lear ...more
A lovely book, that I think will stay with me always. The book does so much in not very many pages. There are plenty of interesting characters, well drawn with few strokes. And the natural world is so beautifully described, and such a presence. It's a character on its own. So much atmosphere, so many moments perfectly captured. I was happy to find Rumphius' The Ambonese Curiosity Cabinet in my library. Well worth checking out if you read this book, for then you can find pictures of the Amoret ...more
I had to really think about this book and whether I liked it or not. After some thought, I think that I did like it. It is so different, almost exotic in it's content and prose. Dermout has a very interesting writing style. I need to mull it over for awhile and re-read some of the earlier chapters. Note: This is one of the books from "Wild" author Cheryl Strayed's booklist that she read while hiking the PCT.

Well, I went back and reread the first half of this book. Events and plot did come togeth
Meagan Tunink
The Ten Thousand Things is a sad, strange fairy tale. It tells the story of The Lady of the Small Garden, who lives on an island that grows spices and takes care of her family's garden. The Small Garden is a misnomer, her home is actually a huge garden including all kinds of animals and plants, as well the ruins of a house that can never be re-built. All of the characters in this book reach a sort of mythical status as their stories are retold by the people on the island. This isn't a page turne ...more
Samantha Wells
A strange, mysterious story authored by then 67 year old Maria Dermout, child of a Dutch East Indies "colonial family". She weaves a magical fable with a theme of loss and living. From the book jacket: Why is the novel called The Ten Thousand Things? Because it is a passionate statement about the meaningfulness of each individual life-- about the ten thousand good and bad things (the events, the people, the objects, the places, the remembered words and colors and shapes and scents and emotion-ch ...more
I wanted to read this because it was on Cheryl Strayed's reading list for her big hike on the PCT. (See "Wild") It evokes wonderful images of island life in Indonesia. One gets a clear sense of both isolation and being at the mercy of the elements. I was slowed down by some of the language: sentences like "A story of the Moluccas Suprapto had to hear the professor tell." Such things happen in translation, I suppose. Rich with enigmatic characters and mysterious, secretive behavior that gets norm ...more
The aching pain of each of the ten thousand things.

A slip--p. 128--from third person POV Felicia to first: "my son".

Stained, tan buckram cover. Faded blue/green decoration. Bottom edges of the spine worth through to linen tape. Tear along right side of title block. Profoundly good smell.

What a delight to discover this book in the stacks of the Ath! The book consists of several stories, connected primarily by the geography of the Mulacca island where they all take place. All of the stories end in
Tejas Janet
Will write more later, but this is a beautifully written book that really spoke to me. I had to purchase a hard copy online since none was available at our city library. No electronic copy available any where. This translation here was first published in 1958.


I'm pleased to discover that now, 19 months after writing the above, this book is available on Kindle and there are two copies available at my city's public library. Yay : )
Juan Hidalgo
Las Diez mil cosas es un libro con sabor a cosa antigua, a exotismo y lugares remotos, a tiempos pasados, a menudencias de las que constituyen la esencia de la vida cotidiana.

Personalmente me hizo recordar los muebles y cajitas en las que mi abuela, hace ya muchísimos años y siendo yo niño, guardaba sus pequeños y triviales tesoros particulares, y creo que esta es una de las virtudes de esta historia: de algún modo parece tocarte alguna fibra sensible interior, y quizá esto se comprenda mejor co
Gitta J
Beautifully written book, but I found it difficult to understand. Maybe I need books that have a clearer purpose to them. The imagery was lovely and I was quite engaged in the book - just felt a little disappointed that it didn't wrap up neatly for me.
Quite a beautifully sad book. Written in her 60s, Dermout is no doubt relaying herself through Felicia who returns to the small island of her birth in the Moluccas during the early 20th century.

There is great love of the land, sea and people in this story as Felicia learns and then teaches her son the ten thousand things that go to make up their island. But the sadness it through who trying to make sense of the various murders past and current that have occurred and what is meant to the people w
Elaine Kovick
Richly and elequently paints a picture.

Beautiful and elegantly written. The author made the island location turn into a picture of colors and textures.
The characters were a diverse mix of beliefs. cultures and backgrounds. The story often highlights how different their thought processes were. Some were a bit difficult to understand and hard to empathize with. I imagine that this book seemed to be written by the island with its rich and very different culture that transcended time and the gener
Despite including the ghosts of three sisters, a crime of passion, a cabinet of curiosities, and the shell of a giant clam, this book is kind of boring.
Mar 08, 2015 Lizzie marked it as to-read-off-my-shelf  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: used-book, own
Loved the way this was written about in Wild . ...more
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Helena Anthonia Maria Elisabeth Dermoût-Ingerman was born in Pekalongan, Java, Indonesia, on 15 June 1888 and died in the Hague, the Netherlands, on 27 June 1962. She was a Dutch-Indonesian author.
More about Maria Dermoût...
Nog pas gisteren Verzameld werk: met een nawoord van Hella S. Haasse Spel van Tifa-gong's Oek de Jong leest Maria Dermoût Puteri Pulau

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“Felicia had never seen such beads before, neither of glass nor of metal, not of jade either, she thought; of stone or baked clay, rather, opaque, in mysteriously tender and quenched colors: orange ocher, golden brown, some touched with black; so subdued of hue - melancholy almost, as if there was something of autumn in that little box woven from leaves, something of passing and dying.” 1 likes
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