Hella Haasse was born in Batavia, the capital of what was then Dutch East India, now independent Indonesia. It is thus understandable why her first novel, Oeroeg (1948), describes the relationship between a Dutch and an Indonesian youth. As the two young men grow up, they gradually become conscious of their ethnic and cultural differences and, in spite of their efforts, nature appears to have destined them to become estranged from each other. Haasse's greatest impact on the Dutch literary scene occurred when her historical novel Het woud der verwachting (In a Dark Wood Wandering) (1948) was published. It was translated into English in 1989. This novel became a classic in its own time. In it the author describes the ever-increasing loneliness of the fifteenth-century Romantic poet--prince Charles d'Orleans, pretender to the crown of France, who wrote most of his poems in British and French prisons. In addition to giving a moving report of the life of a person destined to end his life in utter isolation, Hella Haasse succeeds in presenting her main character in a way which allows the reader to identify with him. Charles's life is interwoven with the lives of all the other people he meets. Haasse's talent for description and narration and her skill with flashbacks allow her to manage the novel's many characters, constructing a microcosm in which each reader feels "at home' and meets people with whom he or she can identify.
Ina Rilke is the prize-winning translator of books by Cees Nooteboom, W. F. Hermans, Erwin Mortier, Tessa de Loo, Dai Sijie, Margriet de Moor and Arthur Japin, among others.