VAN OORT, Boudewijn




Author Tags: War

Born in the Transvaal province of South Africa, near Johannesburg, on August 25, 1938, Rhodes scholar Boudewijn van Oort, who worked in the oil and gas industry as an engineer after receiving his education at Oxford, decided to write Tjideng Reunion (2008) after attending his father Boudewyn van Oort's funeral on the Sunshine Coast.

His superbly detailed but non-inflammatory memoir of two Dutch families who move from South Africa to the Netherland East Indies (now Indonesia), only to become victims of Japanese occupation during World War II, is sophisticated and well-researched investigation into internment camps in Badoeng and Batavia (now called Jakarta), and the remarkable post-war reunions that eventually brought his parents to British Columbia.

Prompted by the German invasion of Holland and Belgium in 1940, Dutch nationals in South Africa, such as the author's father, felt honour-bound to form, on foreign soil, a liberating army, or join the 150-year-old Royal Netherlands Indies Army to defend the Dutch empire. After quickly selling the family home they had recently built in South Africa, the author's family departed for Indonesia in a matter of weeks, travelling by freighter from Durban to Batavia. When the Japanese occupied Java, the two men from the Dutch families became prisoners-of-war. While incorporating historical research and politics, Tjideng Reunion concentrates on recreating the experiences of the wives, the author (as a child) and a grandmother who were sequestered in hellish internment camps.

"The Pacific war ended officially on August 15, 1945," writes Boudewijn, "but we who became trapped in it had to register our own ending, to slay personal dragons." This is brave, important and well-written book, worthy of a trade publisher. At 452 pages, it is too in-depth to merit commercialism, but it will undoubtedly gain its rightful place among the literature that documents the horrendous treatment accorded prisoners and internees by the Japanese army during World War II.

"The Pacific War changed the entire world picture," he says, "and unleashed several concatenating follow up wars: Indonesia (independence), India (partition) , China ( Communist takeover), Korea; Vietnam, and ultimately the retreat from colonies in Africa (Egypt Algiers and then the rest). Some of those post Pacific War troubles are haunting us still - Korea being one, and the partition of India being another noteworthy example requiring daily press coverage. In the meantime Japan continues to struggle with her legacy (comfort women, slave labourers, and Nanking) while the threat of nuclear explosion haunts all of us. In all of this the Indies has been forgotten, and yet, it was the start of it."

As the author notes with typical restraint, "The writing of this book presented a peculiar challenge: for a three-year period, March 1942--May 1945, covering our internment in Bandoeng (now Bandung) on Java, there is almost no contemporary surviving written material describing the lives of some fourteen thousand fellow citizens."

BOOKS:

Tjideng Reunion, A Memoir of World War II on Java (Trafford 2008).

[BCBW 2010] "War"