The Interpreter From Java
Translated by David Doherty
Head of Zeus / An Apollo Book
Paperback edition 2021
Alan Noland discovers his father’s memoirs and learns the truth about the violent man he despised.
In this unsparing family history, Alan distils his father’s life in the Dutch East Indies into one furious utterance. He reads about his work as an interpreter during the colonial war in Southeast Asia, his life as an assassin, and his decision to murder Indonesians in the service of the Dutch without any conscience. How he fled to the Netherlands to escape being executed as a traitor and met Alan’s mother soon after. As he reads his father’s story Alan begins to understand how war transformed his father into the monster he knew.
Birney exposes a crucial chapter in Dutch and European history that was deliberately concealed behind the ideological facade of postwar optimism. Readers of this superb novel will find that it reverberates long afterwards in their memory.
A work of unbridled, incensed storytelling: an assault on the lazy assumptions of parochial, colonial history and a personal quest for redemption. – South China Morning Post.
A Post Colonial Masterpiece That’s Not To Be Missed. – The Dorset Book Detective
The Interpreter from Java is more than a contemporary Max Havelaar or a Dutch version of Malaparte’s Kaputt. It is only fair that he has won two Dutch literary prizes for it. – The Low Countries
Voices in my head. Plurivocality in the autobiographical novel by Alfred Birney, De tolk van Java – Study by Lut Missinne (PDF online)
Alfred Birney became a noteworthy narrator who influenced changes in the socalled ‘tellability’ of narratives about the conflict in Indonesia.’ – Pauline Stoltz – Gender, Resistance and Transnational Memories of Violent Conflicts (Memory Politics and Transitional Justice) (Book)