Sex and Amsterdam

15 December 2008 | Story by Newsroom

Penmanship: Prof Etienne van Heerden signs a copy of his latest novel, 30 Nagte in Amsterdam

UCT's Prof Etienne van Heerden has released his latest Afrikaans novel, 30 Nagte in Amsterdam.

30 Nagte in Amsterdam (literal translation, 30 Nights in Amsterdam) is the multi-award-winning Van Heerden's 24th Afrikaans book and 11th novel. It tells the story of Henk de Melker, lowly museum assistant and writer of wafer-thin biographies of obscure historical figures - like a proposed one on Vincent van Gogh's lesser-known sibling Cornelius - who learns that his late aunt Zan has left him a house in Amsterdam.

He visits the house, and through his encounters with a rogue's gallery of pickpockets, prostitutes and street musicians over 30 days in the city's byways, he learns more about himself and of the scandalous Zan, actress, activist, sensualist and long-gone outcast from the Eastern Cape dorpie of his childhood.

"As he confronts Zan's past, he also looks differently at his own," notes Van Heerden.

As with all his novels, 30 Nagte began with a character, explains Van Heerden. In this case, Zan.

Drawn from no real-life inspirations, Van Heerden insists, Zan uses the only weapon she knows how to use - her body - to "protest" the repressive small-town Calvinism of 1960s South Africa.

It's this character that drives the novel.

"She spoke in my ear, and haunted me," said Van Heerden. "She overwhelmed me."

If 30 Nagte comes just a year after his previous novel, Asbesmiddag, it's not that Van Heerden, busy scholar in UCT's Afrikaans and Netherlandic Studies Section and lecturer/supervisor in creative writing, has more time on his hands these days. A self-described "hit-and-run writer" who writes when he can, he had someone willing him on this time.

"Zan spoke so fast."

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