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The Ten Thousand Things

3.79 of 5 stars 3.79  ·  rating details  ·  363 ratings  ·  80 reviews
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 object ...more
Paperback, 208 pages
Published July 31st 2002 by NYRB Classics (first published 1955)
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Community Reviews

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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

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,
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
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.
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
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
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 H ...more
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
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.
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.
Aug 30, 2012 Lizzie marked it as to-read-off-my-shelf
Shelves: used-book, own
Loved the way this was written about in Wild .
Sep 20, 2007 Anna rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: be included in the canon.
I can't believe how overlooked this book is. Simply captivating.
The Ten Thousand Things by Maria Dermo��t is a story of love and loss told in magical realism. Dermo��t's style takes you on a color palette describing the exotic island landscape of Moluccas, Indonesia with respect paid to environment, culture and traditions.

Felicia is a women unable to acknowledge her profound loss. Try has she might Felicity can't pull herself from the dark recesses of grief. The reader rides along with Felicity as she experiences a tug of war with pain, loss, love, accepta
Michael Armijo
What can I say? Every once in a while one is attracted to a book title and it turns out to be one of those very BORING stories. This is one of them. I wouldn't recommend it highly. It was first published in Holland in 1955 (which may explain why it is a difficult sort of read for today).

However, I would be lying to say that I didn't come away empty handed from this novel about a woman who returns with her baby son from Holland to the Spice Islands of Indonesia, entering a world that is now full
Mindy McAdams
Remarkable, quiet, atmospheric, mysterious. I felt great anticipation when I bought this book -- its title referring to the Tao Te Ching. I felt let down as I began reading it, finding it (initially) too scattered, too vague, like tufts of something drifting in the air at twilight. And then I let go and went with it.

Each time I was reading in this book, I felt transported to another place, in the way of many good books. In this case, though, I could not now really describe the place I went to, e
Stephanie Burke
This is a hard book to describe so I took this from amazon: "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 ...more
Ann Giammona
An exquisite jewel. The writing is poetic and beautiful. The book builds to an ineffable sadness by layering unconnected stories that come together in the end like the indistinct images form a scene in an impressionist painting. A meditation on untimely death and how one goes on living after losing someone dear and how we can't always pin down "what happened."

"She took her hand away, shook her head, shifted in her chair: she liked her t's crossed--this or that--and no nonsense. Were the t's eve
One of the first books I read as a young woman that truly transported me with the beauty of its language and challenged me with its ideas of how to live with love and loss. An underrated classic for those who appreciate subtlety.
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
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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...
Verzameld werk: met een nawoord van Hella S. Haasse Nog pas gisteren Spel van Tifa-gong's Toetie Nederlandse Verhalen 1880-1960

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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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