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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Oyster & the Eagle

(ed. E.M.Beekman)

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To purchase The Oyster & the Eagle

Title: The Oyster & the Eagle
Author: Multatuli
Genre: various
Written: (Eng. 1974)
Length: 122 pages
Original in: Dutch
Availability: The Oyster & the Eagle - US
The Oyster & the Eagle - UK
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  • Selected Aphorisms and Parables of Multatuli
  • Translated, edited, annotated and with an Introduction by E.M.Beekman

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Our Assessment:

B : tantalizing collection of bits and pieces, but just scratches the surface

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       The remarkable Eduard Douwes Dekker -- the self-styled 'Multatuli' -- the author of the iconic Max Havelaar can, indeed, be described as E.M.Beekman does in his Introduction, as:

Holland's greatest writer of the nineteenth century, the father of contemporary Dutch literature, and one of the great figures of modern European intellectual history.
       As you may have gathered, however, his reputation doesn't exactly precede him in the Anglo-Saxon world; even Max Havelaar, to be had in a Penguin Classics edition, hasn't had much impact or attracted much notice (to which I can only say: if you don't have a copy, get one now). The Oyster & the Eagle, a 1974 collection, was a valiant attempt by Beekman to (re-)introduce the author to English-speaking readers -- but you can see how that's turned out .....
       Beekman's helpful Introduction is certainly a good, brief overview of Multatuli's life and work for those entirely unfamiliar with him; The Oyster & the Eagle itself is then a hundred-page Multatuli-sampler.
       Beekman begins with several short excerpts from Max Havelaar, which hardly seem necessary: it's hard to imagine any reader, then or now, coming to this volume without first having stumbled across Multatuli's most famous work. In his Introduction Beekman introduced Multatuli's Ideeën as the author's "main work" -- noting also that it ultimately came to seven volumes (tantalizingly described as: "somewhat reminiscent of Karl Kraus's one-man periodical, Die Fackel" ...); the bulk of this volume is then made up of selections from Ideeën, but at little more than seventy pages one is hard-pressed to consider it an adequate selection, much less a generous one.
       This entire collection, which also draws from other works by Multatuli, consists of a variety of pieces, including parables, short tales, aphorisms, and, as Beekman notes, "plain outcries from the author to his public". On offer here are a few actual stories -- tales 'of authority', for example -- most of which make a rather clear point, while many of the Ideeën are even more direct in their messages. Multatuli's world-view, which includes strong support for women's rights as well as anger at the hypocrisy of (moral and other) authorities, including religious ones, is on clear display throughout.
       Typical is a statement such as:
The extermination of a single prejudice is worth more than the invention of ten new systems.
       Many of the aphorisms are beautifully concisely stated:
Faith is the voluntary incarceration of the mind.
       The Oyster & the Eagle does offer a commendable variety; the mix of stories (of sorts), reflections, and aphorisms suggests the breadth of Multatuli's talents -- and of his concerns. Regrettably, however, there's only so much -- which is not all that much. In the absence of more this collection is certainly welcome ... but the thought of seven volumes out there ......

- M.A.Orthofer, 19 December 2012

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Multatuli (Eduard Douwes Dekker): Other books by Multatuli under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Dutch author Multatuli (actually: Eduard Douwes Dekker) lived 1820 to 1887.

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