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The Ten Thousand Things

3.80  ·  Rating details ·  949 ratings  ·  181 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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3.80  · 
Rating details
 ·  949 ratings  ·  181 reviews

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Dec 22, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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

Suddenly there was an almost tangible silence.
Only the sound of the surf on the coast, the steady murmur of the ocean far out, and the wind, in gusts.
The two men let out the sounding line over the edge of the proa.
The Binongko stood up (the guards let him), he spoke some words--repeated the same ones, it seemed--no one understood him except the one police guard but he paid no attention. Nobody paid attention.
Nobody listened--but they all looked at him.
The two under the roof, the rowers on each s
Feb 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing

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,
May 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Sue by: Beth Asmaa
Wonderful, magical book, unlike anything I've read before. Set in Indonesia; peopled by Dutch and Indonesian, the living and the dead; following a narrative path of its own through the physical world, the natural world, the spiritual world to tell such stories...difficult to describe as they are truly singular. This book must be experienced.

I envisioned writing a longer review but at the moment inspiration is lacking and I will leave it here. This is highly recommended to all who are not intimid
Aug 02, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Sep 22, 2011 rated it really liked it
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.
Feb 24, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ook zonder te weten dat Dermoût in Nederlands-Indië geboren is, kon ik het van de bladzijden lezen/ruiken/proeven. Die herkenning komt voort uit Louis Couperus en Hella Haasse: een tuin op een niet nader benoemd Moluks eiland is de plaats van handeling; en alleen iemand die er is opgegroeid, kan het zo zintuiglijk beschrijven.
Elk hoofdstuk in 'De tienduizend dingen' is een verhaal op zich, waarvan je ontdekt wat de band is met de 'mevrouw van Kleyntjes' (de vrouw die in de bewuste tuin leeft). T
Friederike Knabe
May 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: asia
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
Dioni (Bookie Mee)
Oct 12, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: recent-favorites
First published at

In The Ten Thousand Things Maria Dermoût brought us to my birth country, Indonesia. This is the first time for me to read a Dutch Indies literature so it was truly an interesting experience. I had to look up Moluccas - the place where the book is set, and only then realized it's the islands of Maluku. In fact, I only recently discovered that pre-independent Indonesia is called Dutch East Indies. Just things you wouldn't learn in school's
Roger Brunyate
A Vigil for All the Murdered
She knew that a bay and rocks and trees bending over the surf cannot relieve sadness—can sadness be relieved, or can one only pass it by, very slowly?
In my reading over the past decade, I have really come to trust the reissues of the New York Review of Books—works of fiction, predominantly foreign, that have undeservedly slipped out of circulation. They do for older literature what the Europa Press does for contemporary: open the reader's eyes to a wide range of geo
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
Apr 14, 2014 rated it it was ok
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
Apr 22, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Beth Asmaa
May 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Beth Asmaa by: Friederike Knabe
This is a series of related stories, set on the island of Ambon (Spice Islands, Indonesia, at the time of Dutch East India). The main character Felicia has similarities with the author Maria Dermoût. That connection is visible in the murdered son Himpies. And there are several murdered people in the stories of the book. As in Tao, all things are related in the universe. The Small Garden of the setting, which goes back to at least Felicia's Grandmother in the story is in Inner Bay. It's a natural ...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
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
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.
Missy J
Ambon, Maluku, Indonesia

A very peculiar story.

First a little background on the author: Maria Dermout was born in 1888 in a small town in Java (Dutch East Indies, which now is Indonesia). Dermout returned to the Netherlands for her education and after getting married, she and her husband moved back to the Dutch East Indies and lived all across Java and the Moluccas (now Maluku).

Above you can see the picture of Ambon, where most of the story of "The Ten Thousand Things" is believed to have taken
Aug 14, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Daniel Polansky
You get to carry a book around with you, you see, and you get to read it in between doing other things, and sometimes these other things (whatever they are) are very happy or very sad or just very, in some way, and then always afterward (not always but for a while) you get to take it off the shelf and dust it a bit and sigh wistfully and then put it back on the shelf.
All of which is to say am glad that I am able to take in human letters some small source of rejuvenation, occupying space in my b
Jun 07, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 18, 2009 rated it really liked it
Many pages stood up to, and demanded, a slow, savoring reading. The opening pages, the end of Suprato's story, and parts of the conclusion were especially wonderful. Dermout can offer a precise and loving image of plants, shells, and jellyfish; evoke ghosts that are almost but not quite visible; and suggest depths of feeling with an understatement. However, parts of the novel were less engaging, more vague and romanticized.
Mónica Mar
Nov 13, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
«Y alguna que otra vez, muy pocas, el antiguo lamento pagano por alguien que acababa de morir. Este lamento se titulaba "Las cien cosas", ya que son un centenar las cosas que debemos recordarle al muerto, que debemos preguntarle.»

Cien cosas son más fáciles de enumerar que diez mil. Seres queridos, posesiones terrenales; pueden contarse en decenas o en veintenas. Pero también están aquellas cosas que hacen parte de un lugar, de la historia: el mar, el viento, los jardines; los peces y las conchas
Meagan Tunink
Jun 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Ce Ce
Nov 22, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Ethereal. Poetic. Beautifully rendered lament of loss that celebrates life.
Jul 19, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: be included in the canon.
I can't believe how overlooked this book is. Simply captivating.
Aug 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 500mab, translated
Feb 13, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2013
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, accept
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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.
“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.” 2 likes
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