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Harry Mulisch

If you want the best Dutch literary work, try Harry Mulisch

A while ago I was a little bored. Quite bored actually, so I decided that I wanted to read a book. However, I wanted to try and read something in Dutch because I noticed that being here in Madeira and only talking and reading English made me lose some of my Dutch vocabulary. At first I wanted to go back to one of my childhood favourites, ‘Crusade in jeans’, but I wanted to try something else and read a more ‘literary’ work to freshen up my language skills.

Harry Kurt Victor Mulisch was the son of an Austrian-Hungarian father who worked with the Nazis and a German-Jewish mother and grew up in the second world war, which started when he was twelve. Being the son of both a collaborator (the so called ‘enemy) and a Jewish woman (making him also Jewish, the so called ‘victims’) he lived in a strange position after the war. Both the war and his life after it had big impacts on his penmanship. A lot of the themes in his work are about ‘good’ ‘evil’ and ‘guilt’ and how they are sometimes interchangeable, and a lot of his stories take place in world war two. One of his more famous quotes is: “I have not as much ‘experienced’ the war, as I ‘am’ the war”

The book of Mulisch I wanted to read was ‘The discovery of Heaven’. The biggest reason I wanted to try it was because it got the price of ‘the best Dutch book ever’(not a very imaginative title) and I was interested in it. Now one thing you should know about older Dutch literature is that it can be quite loose in themes, and quite long. The before-mentioned ‘Crusade in jeans’ for example features massive deaths, mostly children or caused by them (it is about a children’s crusade), and is 307 pages long. Another children’s book I liked was about a 14-year-old girls addiction (it was actually girls book so I was actually kind of ashamed to read it back then because it was too ‘girly’).

The deaths in both books were not very graphic, and the language used was easy to understand to appeal more to children, but to I think they paint a good picture of how the literary culture is in the Netherlands.

Which brings us to ‘The discovery of Heaven’. This book is told by to angels, a higher ranked one and a lower ranked one. ‘The chief’ (god) wants to send a messenger to earth to take the stone tablets (with the ten commandments) back to heaven. To send this messenger to earth they need someone with the perfect DNA to let the mission go successfully. The story the angels tell is about two friends, the philosopher Onno and the scientist Max and how one (or both) of them became the father of the messenger. One of the major themes of the book is disillusion, the fact that Heaven underestimated mankind, that they know too much about their own existence and how Heaven tries to get back control by taking the stone tablets to prevent humans from knowing too much (and the lengths they go for that goal).

Heaven is a bureaucratic machine, using both fate and disaster to get their messenger to ‘discover heaven’. One memorable scene of the book has one man learning the truth of Heaven and being hit by a meteorite to prevent him from spreading the knowledge. This book is made as the answer of the ‘theodicee’: how can, in a perfect world created by a perfect god, evil exist? One of the major inspirations of this book was actually the political situation in the Netherlands back then, as there was the debate whether euthanasia should be made legal.

Still, this book is really long, and I mean really long. So it is not a very accessible book to read. For that, I would recommend ‘twice a woman’ a book about a Laura, a woman who falls in love with the younger Sylvia and gets into a relationship with her. Laura wants a child but can’t have that with Sylvia and Sylvia trying to get her wish, which results in misunderstandings a tragedy. It is based on the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice and has a lot of symbolism. Still, it is interesting to read and a lot less complicated than other books of Mulisch, so I would recommend it. (also ‘Crusade in jeans’ is very enjoyable, but not of Mulisch)

Short bio of the volunteer:

David Spoor, a 20 years old Dutchman wanting to live above sea level for a while. likes traveling, nature, food and buildings over 300 years old.


Erasmus+ is a programme of the European Commission embracing the fields of education, training, youth and sports during the period 2014-2020. One of the major aspects is the cooperation between the different fields where the programme acts, hence contributing for a diverse and rich Europe.

Amongst the several goals of the programme, the following are prioritised: the objectives of the Europe 2020 Strategy, including the headline education target; the aims of the strategic framework for European cooperation in education and training (ET 2020), including the corresponding benchmarks; the sustainable development of Partner Countries in the field of higher education; the overall goals of the renewed framework for European cooperation in the youth field (2010-2018); the objective of developing the European dimension in sport, in particular grassroots sport, in line with the EU work plan for sport and the promotion of European values in accordance with Article 2 of the Treaty on the European Union.

In order to achieve these goals, the Erasmus+ has several action policies. The Key Action 1 (KA1) is directed towards the mobility of people; Key Action 2 (KA2) for the cooperation for innovation and the interchange of good experiences; and Key Action 3, which is for the support of reformation policies.

European Voluntary Service

Since 1991 the University of Madeira Students’ Union has developed a wide incentive policy for voluntary work. In 2013 the Students’ Union started the process to receive, send and coordinate Erasmus+ projects of the European Voluntary Service, in order to have a larger influence in the volunteering field. The Union received its first volunteer withing the ambit of a KA1 project in 2014. Many efforts have been done to allow young people from Madeira to take part in several initiatives in Europe, as well as propose several projects allowing young people from several countries to work in the projects of the Students’ Union of the University of Madeira. The main goal of the voluntary work is the contribution of the volunteers to the communities and places they will be staying, being their work not rewarded with payment.

We believe that the European Voluntary Service is a mechanism full of experiences, allowing the approved candidates to have the privilege of taking part in these projects and benefit the places and communities where these volunteers will be staying.

Since 2013, the University of Madeira Students’ Union has received volunteers that have collaborated in several activities and initiatives. Besides being able to enjoy a wonderful experience which will contribute to their personal and professional growth, they are able to contribute in a unique way to the community in which they are inserted and to join dozens of volunteers from the University of Madeira.