Back to Insulinde

Original title: Terug naar Insulinde

Author: van Rijn, Elle

Publication Date:

August 2022



Original language and publisher

Dutch | Hollands Diep

Territories Handled

Worldwide excl. Dutch


Historical Fiction

Number of copies sold:


Back to Insulinde

Original title: Terug naar Insulinde

Author: van Rijn, Elle


‘Elle van Rijn has managed to weave all these elements together magisterially: the characters jump out of the book with all their peculiarities and contradictions. The reader is constantly looking through Rosa’s eyes, which can be recognisable and sometimes confrontational, as she also allows herself to be ruled by the vagaries of her youth.’ — Chiara Beltrami, Italian translator of amongst others David van Reybrouck’s international bestselling Revolusi, who is specialized in post-colonial history

A poignant novel about family, loyalty, love, and hope in times of war.

In 1925 on Java, Rosa is born into a family that has lived in the Dutch East Indies for decades. Her grandfather is on the Dutch Council of the Indies while her father works as an engineer for the department of transport, public works and water management. As a child of the tropics, she is accustomed to the privileges of colonial life and lives like a princess with servants on the one hand while also going on adventures in the jungle. But then her mother abandons her because of an imagined disease, and her parents separate. Left with her aunt, the director of a school for indigenous girls, she feels displaced and all alone. Then, when she is torn from the Dutch Indies she loves as well and has to go to the Netherlands, there is only one thing she wants: to go back to her home country, where she spent her happiest years as a child.

She returns to the colony eventually and finds that the country of her youth no longer exists. When the Netherlands declare war on Japan, sixteen-year-old Rosa is still under the delusion that they will easily win this war. Everyone is dumbfounded when Korean and Japanese soldiers besiege their villa district. It spells the beginning of years of internment, from camp to camp, in which Rosa grows up quickly and has to look after her mother and sisters. She gradually realises that there is no ‘right’ side in this war and that only a sense of shared humanity determines who has value and which battles must be fought.

Marketing Information

  • English sample available
  • Under option: Romania, Albania, Slovakia
  • Immediately entered the Bestseller 60 at #18

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