Dutch best-selling writer Joost Zwagerman commits suicide ahead of new book launch

Joost_ZwagermanDutch writers, television presenters and journalists have reacted with shock to the suicide of novelist and columnist Joost Zwagerman, the day before he was due to launch his new book.

Zwagerman’s death emerged on Tuesday evening when he failed to turn up for a radio interview to talk about his new book De stilte van het licht (the silence of light). Much of the music he had chosen for the programme was about death.

In 2008 he was awarded the prestigious Gouden Ganzenveer (Gold quill) for his work.

Zwagerman, who was 51, suffered from depression but had never condoned suicide saying it leaves a permanent mark on the people they leave behind. His father had tried to commit suicide, an event he wrote about in his Novel Zes Sterren (2002). His great friend poet Rogi Wieg had euthanasia for depression two months ago.

After his father’s failed attempt suicide became an important theme in Zwagerman’s work. In 2005 his book Door Eigen Hand (By their own hand), about the effects of suicide on friends and relatives, was published.

Zwagerman was completely opposed to granting euthanasia to people suffering from severe depression. He always held the view that friends and family should not respect the suicide’s wish to die but to keep trying to convince him that the depression would pass, no matter how unlikely it seemed.


In an article refuting fellow writer Karin Spaink’s contention that every citizen should have access to the means to kill themselves he wrote about his friend Rogi Wieg:

‘I knew the desperation he felt, I only had a few arguments to counter his intensely bleak but ‘sound’ decision; I could, if I put myself in his place, understand his conclusion and would have thought myself a worthless shit if, even for one moment, I had agreed with him, let alone helped him to prepare for his suicide.’

Publisher Peter Nijssen from publishing house the Arbeiderspers said Zwagerman had always been critical about the act of suicide. ‘We’re trying to understand why he did it, why someone is driven to do this. He was a flamboyant author who loved life but in the end he was unable to resist temptation.’ he is quoted as saying in the NRC.


Known as a passionate lover of art, Zwagerman was a frequent guest on television chat show De Wereld Draait Door. Presenter Matthijs van Nieuwkerk said in a reaction to his death that Zwagerman could talk about art ‘without cynicism, with a pure heart and spirit’. ‘God, what he taught us,’ Van Nieuwkerk said.

In Zwagerman De Stilte van het Licht wrote: ‘After you die you not only become part of the memories of your loved ones, you also live on in the texture and DNA of the art works you loved. When you are alive art can make you lose yourself; when you die some of you will remain.’

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