In Memoriam: Bea Vianen, Suriname, 1935-2019

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A post by Peter Jordens.

Bea Vianen, one of Suriname’s literary greats, passed away on January 6, 2019 at the age of 83. Here are excerpts from three In Memoriams, translated from Dutch.

Tascha Samuel of De Ware Tijd reports that “Vianen was a unique woman who, in colonial Suriname when women (East Indian women in particular) had no voice, stood up and delivered extraordinary literary productions that painted a keen and critical picture of Suriname at the time.

Vianen was a Surinamese writer of novels, stories and poetry. She belongs to the most important Dutch Caribbean authors of the 1970s. She was trained as a teacher and lived in the Netherlands for some time. Her debut came in 1969 with the novel Sarnami, hai, the story of a young East Indian girl who must find her way to adulthood and emancipation in Suriname, a country torn by ethnic and religious divisions and strongly affected by a colonial past. Her later Surinamese novels, Strafhok (1971) and Het paradijs van Oranje (1973), also reflect this context.

According to writer/publisher Robby ‘Rappa’ Parabirsing, Vianen was a unique personality. ‘When she started, I was still in elementary school, and in high school we were introduced to her stories, books and poems. Her work wasn’t easy. She was well traveled. But her way of describing was special.’ Vianen was raised in a strict Roman Catholic boarding school which lay the basis for her writing. ‘For me, Strafhok is a powerful book. She wrote, far ahead of the time, about characters who were ‘imprisoned’ in a racial cage, a societal cage, or as one character in her book who is homosexual and tries to escape from it.’

The famous writer also shed light on the society of the Netherlands in her book Het Paradijs van Oranje. Parabirsing continues: ‘She always dealt with the perspective of the outcast, and that book was about the immigrant group. For immigrants, the Netherlands was not heaven but hell. Vianen fought tenaciously from within her own race in her book Sarnami, hai. She had to deal with many disappointments and setbacks in life, such as the death of her two daughters. And, as is often the case with artistic souls, it may be that they are touched more profoundly than we are. Consequently, she was very withdrawn. She was not always well acknoweledged and understood.’ […]”

Meanwhile, Thomas de Veen writes in NRC Handelsblad that Bea Vianen “was the first Surinamese woman who had a novel published with a Dutch publisher. In 1969 the prominent Dutch publishing house Querido published Sarnami, hai, her strongly autobiographical prose debut which sparked Dutch literary attention for Suriname in the 1970s.”

Michiel van Kempen writes in Caraïbisch Uitzicht that Vianen “was for several decades the most-read writer of Suriname, on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. She built that reputation especially with her first two novels, Sarnami, hai (1969) and Strafhok (1971), both published by the leading publishing house Querido. Her work dealt with the problems of being encapsulated and escaping, with freedom versus lack of freedom. Suriname was the ‘alpha and omega’ of her work, but she described the sense of suffocation in her native country with extraordinary sharpness.”

Access the three original items here:, and

Other recent articles dedicated to Bea Vianen (all in Dutch) include:

Bea Vianen’s books:


Sarnami, hai (1969)

Strafhok (1971)

Ik eet, ik eet, tot ik niet meer kan (1972)

Het paradijs van Oranje (1973)

Geen onderdelen (1979)

Yo te espero, señora Ramkumari (1979)

Een kinderbedje (2015)


Cautal (1965)

Liggend stilstaan bij blijvende momenten (1974)

Over de grens: Gedichten 1976-1986 (1986)

Op het laatst krijgen we met z’n allen donderop (1989)

Is als het zo ruist een vermogen (1993)

Begraaf mij in dit gruis (2002)

The above photo is credited to Els Kirst and appeared at


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