By Hagar Peeters
Translated by Vivien D. Glass

208 pages.
2018. Hardcover and Paperback.
Ebook also available.

$28.95 | 9780999754405
$18.95 | 9780999754429

Buy this book!


“As lush with speculative literary history as it is with lyrical prose,
picking its way through the sticky webs of family dynamics and revolutionary politics.”
World Literature Today

Malva, a precocious eight-year-old ghost, is running amok in the afterlife with a cadre of other lost children including Daniel Miller, Eduard Einstein, and Lucia, the schizophrenic daughter of James Joyce. She searches for her father, the famous poet Pablo Neruda, and wants him to know the details of her small, but not insignificant life. Why did he abandon her, and her mother Maria? And what became of him? Who was he before he had a child? And what did she, his only child, mean to him?

From her omniscient perspective, the once disabled and mute Malva now travels through the world and through time, seeing her father as a young boy, later as he courted her mother in Dutch-Indonesia, and how his political passions drove his life. She scrutinizes every moment, seeking to understand and resolve her loss. With the wisdom of a child, she picks up her father’s pen and conducts literary mischief, courting the great poets of our time and bringing her chosen ghostwriter, Hagar Peeters, news of her own father, who was a journalist in Chile during the coup and Neruda’s mysterious death….

Startling, profound, and graceful, Peeters brings to readers the world Malva could not describe in life, an extraordinary story of love that spans earth and heaven.


As Malva reclaims her father’s pen to tell her story of abandonment, the novel probes the question of how to make sense of Neruda’s political outspokenness in light of his silence on the subject of his own mute daughter, revisiting his poetry to find where Malva might fit among all the omissions. Malva is as much a triumphant meditation on disability as it is a fiercely revisionist biography. […] Peeters misses no chance to show her poetic strength.
– Grant Schatzman,
World Literature Today

Malva is a hypnotically poetic novel, in Peeters’s original Dutch as much as in the translation by Vivien Glass. The afterlife has granted the disabled eight-year-old Malva Marina a precociously eloquent kind of wisdom and a wicked sense of humor. Mute and powerless during her brief earthly existence, she’s now chatty and happily omniscient. She barely seems to hold a grudge against her absent, famous father. But she’s also ruthless when it comes to his contradictions.
– Sebastiaan Faber, “
Neruda’s Ghosts,” Public Books

The writing is lyrical, sensuous, animated by Latin passion and flights of the imagination. […] This style sets Malva apart. [… Malva] is a spy ensconced inside [Neruda’s] brain, rounding out what we know of him with her own interpretation of his thoughts and motivations, occasionally erupting in anger, more often hurt, yet forgiving. Much as we may love Neruda’s poetry, it is chastening to find out that the idol has feet of clay.
– Hester Velmans, 
Full Stop

Cleverly unravels the myth surrounding Neruda without knocking him off his pedestal, written in sparkling language.

It only takes half a page to realize that the poet Hagar Peeters is also a novelist of exceptional ability.
– NRC Handelsblad 4-stars

An incandescent and evocative debut.

Marvelous surrealist novel […], strongly reminiscent of Allende and Marquez […], a fascinating patchwork of fiction and history.
De Telegraaf

Intoxicating language saturated with warm hues that’s allowed to rustle like a veiled wedding dress, and you have a lavish novel by a gifted poet.
– De Morgen 

There are many parallels between the mute Malva and the language- and literature-loving Peeters in this father-daughter book full of yearning for recognition.
– De Limburger

Peeters impresses with poetic prose full of magical realism, biographical details and psychological insight.
– Opzij

There are no blatant judgments in this novel, which goes beyond all dramaturgical rules. […] This unusual book shows how individual moral misconduct counteracts political commitment; at the end, this leads to a poignant detour into the Nazi extermination camps.
Deutschlandfunk Kultur

This phantasmagoric novel by the celebrated Dutch poet Peeters (Maturity, 2011, etc.) is a strange experience, poetic in word and verse. […] Malva’s voice is intriguing, having evolved beyond revenge or anger into a deeper acceptance. An evocative portrait of a lost girl demanding agency even in the face of death itself.
– Kirkus Reviews

Hagar Peeters renders the imaginary voice of the child by drawing on her poet’s language and her own complex relationships with her father. Ironic and lucid.
– Livres Hebdo

Malva is talkative [and] has a lot to say, especially that she is now “both a forgotten dead girl and an omniscient survivor”. […] Hydrocephalic, she lived only for eight years, “leech, gnome, monster” as she was called by her poet father. […] How can a poetic genius, who invents words for those who can not express themselves and gives them generously, be allowed to indulge in or even feed on the most frightening selfishness? […] The most beautiful pages are perhaps those in which Malva evokes her too short childhood, when she lived, despite her illness, entrusted to an affectionate foster family, regularly receiving visits by her mother who never gave up on her.
Le Matricule des Anges

From the very first line of Malva, I couldn’t stop reading. It’s wonderful, sensitive, and cleverly done. It is clear Hagar Peeters is a poet. She interleaves and interconnects very complex stories in a way that is easy to follow though it’s an experimental novel. All the key events and people in Neruda’s life somehow appear, even if in a very subtle way, and the book gives us an entrance to histories that include the Spanish Civil War, the Chilean coup, and many important poets. I am thinking about including Malva in my future classes and I truly recommend it for students, colleagues, and the general reading public.
– Verónica Cortínez, Professor of Latin American Literature and Director of Cone Studies, UCLA



Hagar Peeters (b. 1972), nominee for Dutch Poet Laureate in 2008, has won numerous prizes and published several volumes of poetry: Enough Poems Written About Love Today (1999), Suitcases of Sea Air (2003), Runner of Light (2008), Maturity (2011), City of Sandcastles (2018), and The Author Is a Single Mother (2019), published in September in the Netherlands and in October 2019 in Chile. This latest collection is the first part of a trilogy in which she examines the relationship between authorship and single motherhood. Its sequel consists of prose exercises and philosophical consideration, for which she was awarded a scholarship from the Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences. Peeters broke through in 1997 as a rap poet and then graduated cum laude in the History of Culture, Mentality and Ideas after the Enlightenment. Her poems have been sung by prominent Dutch artists. Peeters spent ten years researching the life of Malva in the Netherlands and Chile. The novel has now been translated into six languages. She lives in Amsterdam with her son.
Photo: © Koos Breukel

Vivien D. Glass (b. 1975) is a literary translator from Dutch and German to English. She was born in Switzerland and moved to the Netherlands in 1995, where she completed degrees in translation and interpretation. Her published translations include works of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, children’s verse and more. She is recipient of the 2013 Nederland Vertaalt prize for her poetry translation of a work by Gerrit Komrij.