This haunting novel is set in the Moluccas, an area with which Maria Dermout was familiar, having spent the twenty-five years following her marriage living in various towns and cities both there and on the island of Java. Drawing on her rich memories and her knowledge of Indonesian customs and folklore, Dermout paints an unforgettable picture of Felicia and her grandmother, two powerful women who run their own business and raise Felicia's infant son, Himpies. The story is pervaded by an ominous current of violence.
When the adult Himpies, a soldier, is murdered by natives, Felicia is forced to confront the terrible reality of violence and death. She expresses her grief in a personal ritual of remembering her son and others who have died violently on the island, including those she "knows" only through the island's oral history. Each year she marks the deaths in an act of commemoration that becomes, finally, a celebration of life.
The Ten Thousand Things was originally published by Simon and Schuster in 1958. It received many fine reviews, including the following from Time: "In translation the book is an uncommon reading experience, an offbeat narrative that has the timeless tone of legend. . . . The Ten Thousand Things are the fragments that make up life's substance, and to go on living, however maddeningly arranged the fragments may be, is itself a valid action. Spelled out against the rich, colorful background that author Dermout knows so well and handles so effectively, this is an affirmation that emerges with an oddly insistent, compelling effect.