Hilary Mantel about Summer brother

Summer brother is an impressive novel: a deceptively simple story of lives at the margin, with a child’s viewpoint perfectly pitched and sustained, it is cleanly written and powerfully imagined.

It reminded me of Clare Keegan’s novella FOSTER, which has a girl narrator of a similar age, and is an outstanding book. But the challenges are greater here, as Robben deals with all kinds of inflammable material, and does it with such tact and understanding.’ Hilary Mantel


Review in The Observer – The Guardian

Summer Brother (the translation of Zomervacht, published by World Editions) just got a raving review in The Guardian and The Observer!

‘Humorous and shrewd novel… evocative coming-of-age novel…’ ‘astute characterisations.’

‘Robben depicts the limitations of a dysfunctional family but also celebrates empathy as a force for good.’ (Lucy Popescu) The Observer

Here you can read the complete review.

‘Master of Moral Ambivalence’

The website ‘The Low Countries‘ just published an extensive article written by journalist and editor Ken Lambeets about both Jaap Robben’s novels Summer Brother and You have me to love.

‘After the auspicious debut You Have Me to Love, Robben does not seem to be burdened by the author’s curse of the second book. And unlike many of his peers, it is clear that he needn’t draw all too much inspiration from his own life for his stories. This should make for a promising third book’ – (Ken Lambeets) The Low Countries

Longlist International Booker Prize 2021

Amazing news! Summer Brother is selected for the longlist of the International Booker Prize 2021! It feels like someone surprised me with a completely unexpected birthday. And gave me a fantastic storm as a present!

‘A deeply humane novel centred on a disabled man, his heroic younger brother and an unreliable, partly criminal father living on an all but derelict site. The book is generous to all its flawed characters, is beautifully written and humanises lives of abject poverty on the edge of squalor and disaster.’ – Jury of the International Booker Prize 2021

Summer Brother is published by World Editions and translated by David Doherty. The book was planned for May, but will be available in the bookstores at the 8th of April.

Summer Brother in The New York Times

Just a few days after Summer Brother was published by WorldEditions in the US and Canada, The New York Times published this raving review.

‘Robben is wonderful at drawing characters with just a few deliberate strokes. One standout description comes in a passing reference to Maurice’s mother: “In my memory, smoke came out of her mouth even when she didn’t have a cigarette between her lips. There was always something smoldering inside her.”

Most fascinating to Robben, however, are the prickly relationships between men, which oscillate between moments of tenderness and brutality before reaching a painful climax. Robben depicts men who regularly cycle between carelessness, cruelty and compassion, which makes Brian’s ultimate rank-breaking toward benevolence all the more uplifting.

Like a photographer shooting a portrait, Robben captures his subjects in “Summer Brother” in a focused close-up. It’s intimate, even claustrophobic at times, just as life must be for an isolated boy like Brian, looking with wonder to the lights on the hill.’ The New York Times (Tacey Rychter)

The Riveter – British Library

On March 29th Jaap will appear in the online event of the British Library at the launch of the Dutch Riveter. Together with Simone Atangana Bekono, Karin Amatmoekrin and Sam Garrett.

Hosted by Rosie Goldsmith and with live music from singer-songwriter VanWyck, and live drawing by illustrator and political cartoonist Henny Beaumont.

Part of New Dutch Writing, supported by The Dutch Foundation for Literature.

Translation ‘Das Neinhorn’

Almost everyone did something during the lockdown months that they didn’t get around to before. Jaap translated the picture book ‘Das Neinhorn’ (The No-corn) – by German author Marc-Uwe Kling and illustrator Astrid Henn – into Dutch. It’s a book that cannot be compared to any other picture book and is bound to put a smile on your face.

The book sold over 100,000 copies in Germany and in the Netherlands the book is also making quite a splash. In three months more than 10.000 copies have been sold.

‘An exceptionally humorous picture book. Jaap Robben has made a magnificent translation.’ Friesch Dagblad

To Poland with the silencemen

The 18-part series Po Polska appeared in Trouw newspaper, where Jaap wrote about the ‘silencemen’ a.k.a. the four Polish handymen who helped renovate his house. To conclude his quest for contact, Jaap travelled home with them to Poland in December 2019, to meet their families. A kind of driving-home-for-Christmas experience in a speeding Polish handyman van.

Biography of a fly

De Nieuwe Oost Wintertuin – a cultural production company – came up with an idea that is as simple as it is brilliant. And absolutely corona-proof. In the bus shelters you would normally find posters announcing their festival, but these are replaced with the individual chapters of a story. Last summer, I received the honourable request to write such a story: ‘Biography of a Fly’. By bike or on foot, you can follow three different routes through the city along the 25 chapters of my story about the life of a fly.

From November 2020 onwards, the chapters will be on display the whole month.
Here you can find more information, including the Nijmegen route map.
And it’s a double celebration: ‘Biography of a fly’ goes on tour immediately. During Explore the North the story can be read by foot or bike in the streets of Leeuwarden from 17 to 24 November. More news will follow

Heritage festival

In the summer of 2020 Jaap investigated ‘the border’. At the request of the Erfgoedfestival and the Grenslandmuseum in Dinxperloo he took to the road. In search of the line that we now carelessly cross. That line that is hardly visible in the landscape anymore. For years Jaap has been passing the former German border building between Beek-Ubbergen and Wyler and so he went looking for the people who now live there. Thisis how he came into contact with a Syrian woman named Delvin. She and all her fellow residents had to risk their lives to cross the border into Europe. And now they live here, right on a border. How does she experience this line that is invisible to us?

Together with musician Typhoon, Jaap presented his story on 27 September in the Musis Sacrum in Arnhem. Afterwards, they were interviewed by the always enticing Andrea van Pol. 

The story ‘Our invisible neighbours’ was subsequently published in AD Magazine and can be read here. 

Literarischer Sommer Festival in Neuss (D)

Jaap was a guest for the third time during the German literature festival Literarischer Sommer in Neuss. This time he will be interviewed in connection with the series Kriegsende oder Befreiung that he wrote in the spring of 2020 for the Neue Rhein Zeitung and Deutschlandfunk. On 3 September he will talk to Christine Breitschopf in the Stadtbibliothek Neuss.

Click here for more information.  

Read here how journalist Claus Clemens described the evening in the Zeitung Neuss Grevenbroich.

Poetry on TV

Last year Jaap joined a Dutch chat show monthly to read poetry. For each episode he
went to the Dutch poetry centre in search of poems around a particular theme. All
episodes can be found on Uitzending Gemist (Missed Broadcast)


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