Alfred Birney

Alfred Birney (b. 1951) is descended from a prominent family of plantation owners in the Dutch East Indies and was born in the Dutch city of The Hague. His father came from Surabaya, with roots that lay in the Netherlands, East Java, China and Scotland, hence his Anglo-Saxon surname. His mother was Dutch. Recurring themes in Birney’s literary work include family and alienation, the struggle to identify with motherland or fatherland, and solving the endless riddles cast up by these themes. His distinguished career spans novels, novellas, short stories, columns, essays, criticism, plays and journalism. In his fiction, he weaves powerful, associative narrative with subtle, dream-like elements, while his columns, essays and critical pieces take a harder, confrontational tone flavored with irony, sarcasm and playful humor. All these strands come together in his bestseller De tolk van Java (The Interpreter from Java, 2016), a deeply personal exploration of colonial legacy that became the literary sensation of 2017 in the Netherlands and went on to win the Henriëtte Roland Holst Award and the Libris Literature Prize. The novel is currently being translated into Indonesian and Italian, with the English translation due for publication in the spring of 2020. The novel has also been adapted for the stage, and a major production will tour theatres across the Netherlands in the 2019-2020 season.