“I write to open the black book, over and over. There is no return from it. The book is like forgetfulness, a blank and impenetrable lake, a water grave.”
Hanna Nordenhök’s novel takes place in two very different places, and time signals the breaks. In Stockholm Kerstin, who suffers from dementia, sinks deeper and deeper into herself while getting regular visits from her daughter, who one day finds a black notebook in her belongings.
For the younger woman the black book becomes a road back in time, to a past that mostly takes place in Indonesia in the 1930s, in what was then the Dutch East Indies. With the help of the notebook she can tell the story of what really happened in the white house in Simpang. There is Pa who is drawn to his sugar plantation like a fly to light. There are the four ominous butterflies: Zus, the lad, Moeder and the young nanny Roos. There is the garden that opens up like a strange flower with thick, mysterious petals.
Using material and setting from her own family history with ties to Indonesia, Hanna Nordenhök writes Det vita huset i Simpang, a hypnotic but also violent tale about intimacy and power relations and about the legacy of a dark colonial past. The story of Swedish colonialism and women’s roles in the East Indies project here intertwine with questions about the power of storytelling and writing, and also with the consequences when children are forced to interpret the adult world through a key hole.