By Hagar Peeters
Translated by Vivien D. Glass
WINNER OF THE FINTRO PRIZE FOR LITERATURE
“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
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.
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.
– Dutschlandfunk 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 (b. 1972), nominee for Dutch Poet Laureate, 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) and Maturity (2011). She spent ten years researching the life of Malva in the Netherlands and Chile. 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.