Boudewijn Büch

Productive writer whose own story was a subject of speculation





Boudewijn Büch, writer and broadcaster: born Wassenaar, the Netherlands 14 December 1948; died Amsterdam 23 November 2002.

The writer, critic, traveller, collector and one-man media spectacle Boudewijn Büch loomed so large in the Dutch literary landscape that he sometimes seemed to fill it entirely.

Boudewijn Büch, writer and broadcaster: born Wassenaar, the Netherlands 14 December 1948; died Amsterdam 23 November 2002.

The writer, critic, traveller, collector and one-man media spectacle Boudewijn Büch loomed so large in the Dutch literary landscape that he sometimes seemed to fill it entirely.

As the often written and rewritten primary object of his own writing, Büch's life story presents a dense web of fact and fiction. Born in 1948 of an Italian-Jewish mother and a father variously described as Polish-German and Jewish-Polish, Büch grew up in the prosperous suburb of Wassenaar, near Leiden, some 30 miles from Amsterdam. His first appearance in the national media was in 1949, in a women's magazine, where baby Boudewijn was chosen most beautiful baby in south Holland.

Büch's childhood in a family of six boys was overshadowed by what was commonly judged to be an unhealthily strong attachment to his father and by his parent's tempestuous marriage, which ended in divorce in 1960. At the height of this crisis, the sensitive 10-year-old boy had to be institutionalised in a psychiatric clinic, where he remained for a year. He passed another year in a sanatorium. His childhood experience in the asylum would later be the material of one of his most famous novels, Het dolhuis ("The Madhouse", 1987).

When, at 12, he was sent back to school, his stuttering and his difficulties in dealing with bullying classmates made his time there a martyrdom. At high school and later at university in Leiden, where he read Dutch Literature and German, Büch found that he could write and had other ways of beating the competition: at school, he simply learned the history teaching book by heart in order to compensate for his timidity with achievement. This period, too, would be transformed into a novel, De Hel ("Hell", 1990).

After a period of political activism in left-wing groups and for homosexual interests, Büch finished his studies and became a journalist and began to publish poetry. His early professional life was fictionalised in his most successful book, De kleine blonde dood ("The Little Blond Death", 1985), about his relationship with an older woman and the death from a brain tumour of their six-year-old son, Mickey. The book was later made into a film. The veracity of this tragic story has been a subject of considerable journalistic speculation and, in his many interviews, Büch consistently refused to reveal whether or not he had indeed had a son.

Büch's public breakthrough came with a review programme on radio, which made him a power in the Amsterdam literary establishment. Possessing a seemingly inexhaustible supply of energy and ideas, he also wrote columns for newspapers and magazines, was to be found at every literary party, and still found time to publish up to two books a year. In 1986 he took on a television travel programme, De wereld van Bodewijn Büch ("The World of Bodewijn Büch").

Büch was one of the greatest bibliophiles in the Netherlands. His large house in Amsterdam was crammed full of books, many in rare first editions, as well as thousands of curiosities, among them the printer's proof of Goethe's condolence card, a bone belonging to the last dodo, and the penis of Napoleon Bonaparte (removed during post-mortem). Among his other personal preoccupations was his adoration of Mick Jagger, whom Büch, in his own opinion, resembled very closely.

In recent years, Büch's manic literary career seemed to have given way to a spell of at times severe depression. In 1998 he announced that he had lost all inclination to write and would never write another book. He began to appear in one-man theatre shows, which were very popular, and was in the middle of restructuring his personal and literary life when he died. His last book, Het Geheim van Eberwein ("Eberwein's Secret"), will appear in 2003.

Philipp Blom

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