Sunken Red  

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“'Niets bestaat dat niet iets anders aanraakt'” [“'Nothing exists that does not touch something else'”]--Sunken Red (1981) by Jeroen Brouwers

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Bezonken rood (1981, English: Sunken Red) is a novel by Jeroen Brouwers. It is an autobiographical war novel published after the death of his mother, a reflection of the coping process of his years in the Japanese internment camps. Guy Cassiers directed a play of the English translation of the book with Dirk Roofthooft.


Brouwers spent his toddler years in the Japanese internment camp Tjideng, he was there with his mother, grandmother and sister. His father was not there because the men were separated from the women and children. His grandmother died in the camp due to malnutrition, corporal punishment and exhaustion. All the women were treated badly, they received corporal punishments no matter what they did, even if they did nothing. Brouwers himself (the narrator in the story) experienced all of this up close. Sometimes he even thought what happened to the women was funny, for example that they had to jump around naked like frogs. As a five-year-old toddler, he had no sense of right or wrong. This is precisely what later became the core of his camp syndrome. He feels guilty because as a curious toddler he absorbed everything so eagerly. And that his age prevented him from dwelling on the horrors. And even laughed about it.

Later when he was an adult and saw the film of the camp again, he beat himself because of his immoral behavior at the time. After Brouwers saw his mother beaten and humiliated, he decided that she could no longer be his mother. Because of everything he had seen and experienced, he had lost the feeling of love. He revered his mother, but her beauty and his love for her was kicked away forever by the Japanese who nearly kicked his mother to death. No one could hurt him anymore when he loved no one. He no longer loved his mother.

Polemic with Kousbroek

After publication a fierce polemic between the author and Rudy Kousbroek arose and Kousbroek's De tomatenketchup-Tjideng van Jeroen Brouwers (1982) stated that Bezonken rood was a collection of lies and exaggerations. The work Het Oostindisch kampsyndroom (1992) continued along the same lines.

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