David Van Reybrouck, situational literature
Born in Bruges on 11 September 1971, the scientist, historian, archaeologist and writer David Van Reybrouck studied archaeology and philosophy at the universities of Leuven and Cambridge. In 2000, he obtained his doctorate at the University of Leiden. In addition to his academic skills, he has distinguished himself in various fields - as a writer, novelist, and man of the theatre, and is also a journalist.
He began his professional life as a cultural historian, collaborating on exhibitions on human evolution, but in 2001 he published his first work of fiction, De Plaag (The Plague). Set in South Africa, it is a fanciful investigation into the history of plagiarism, from Maeterlinck to Eugène Marais.
He won international fame primarily thanks to his book Congo. Een geschiedenis (Congo: The Epic History of a People), published in 2010 and translated into 15 languages. David Van Reybrouck recounts the tumultuous destiny of this country, interweaving historical facts and the story of his encounters. To write it, the author travelled throughout the DRC and spoke to hundreds of Congolese to construct a story that is halfway between classical historiography and fiction.
In January 2011, he was elected president of the Flanders PEN Club, the Flemish branch of PEN International (founded in 1921), a worldwide association of writers which promotes peace and international understanding, freedom of expression and resistance to all forms of censorship.
In 2016 he published Zink (Zinc), the story of a tiny territory, the village of Moresnet, which remained neutral until 1919, and the fate of one of its inhabitants, who changed nationality five times. Through this story, the author offers a reflection on German-speaking Belgians, the end of a European utopia, the return of borders and the dangers of the rise of nationalist movements.
Five more years of work, research and investigation resulted in his monumental work Revolusi, published in 2020, in which Van Reybrouck looks at the poignant history of Indonesian independence. For this book, he collected the testimonies of nearly 200 people, the last living witnesses of the struggle for independence. This struggle inspired independence movements in Asia, Africa and the Arab world, especially when free Indonesia hosted the legendary Bandung Conference in 1955, the first world congress without the West.
His most recent work Odes, published in 2021, is a collection of very short texts, two or three pages long, in which David Van Reybrouck looks at everything: the night, music, exes, risks and failure. It is a work rich in reflections on art, morality, the state of the world, our relationship to religion, to others, and more.
Photo : © Frank Ruiter 2020