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Naomi Rebekka Boekwijt: ‘This novel is a plea for human assistance’

Philosophy alumna Naomi Rebekka Boekwijt returns to Leiden University on 20 June to present her latest novel Stemmen (Voices) in Plexus. ‘I wanted to show that things could be done differently in psychiatric care.’

Boekwijt took her first steps as a writer while still a student. ‘I started out studying Dutch, but the only thing I really enjoyed about that programme was reading books. So I switched to Philosophy, where I was forced to think very deeply about things like language and evolution. That was totally my thing. Writing was something I did on the side, as a hobby, but when I entered a writing competition, I was singled out.’

'Just talk'

This led to a short story collection, Pels (Fur), published in 2013, followed by the novels Hoogvlakte (High Plains), Noordwaards (Northward), and Bloedblaren (Blood Blisters). And most recently, Stemmen, about the special bond between a social worker and a patient in a psychiatric clinic. ‘With this novel, I want to show how things can be done well in psychiatry. That you don't have to throw people into isolation or inject them with drugs, but that you can also just talk.’

Boekwijt speaks from experience. After a Bachelor's programme in Philosophy during which her psychiatric symptoms faded into the background, she decided to emigrate to Switzerland. ‘I wanted to get away from all that reading at the library and feel my body again. Alongside my writing, I worked with cows and horses for three years. It was really nice, but the Swiss are not the most open people.’

‘Human Denmark’

So she moved on to Denmark, where she worked as a house painter. There, her symptoms flared up again. ‘Psychiatric care is really good in the Netherlands,’ she says. ‘The setting of my new book is the Netherlands, because it was more convenient for the story, but the psychiatric setting I sketch is based on Denmark. Everything there is just a bit more human.’

Leiden friend

As a result, Boekwijt does not spend much time in the Netherlands anymore, but when she does visit, she often meets up with her former logic lecturer (and former education director Jeroen van Rijen). ‘He contacted me a few years ago about another book I had published. He has since become a great friend.’

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