Who was Janwillem van de Wetering?

Writer Janwillem van de Wetering (1931-2008) was born in Rotterdam, the Netherlands and traveled to the Far East in 1958. He was in his twenties and looking for meaning. In 1971 he published about his time in a Japanese Zen Monastery in The Empty Mirror. The book became well-known in the United States. In the Netherlands he became famous with his series of police novels about Amsterdam cops Grijpstra and De Gier. In these stories he incorporated his philosophy of life into a ‘product suitable for sale’. Van de Wetering became a a widely read author and a welcome guest in the media, where his adventurous life was a rewarding topic of conversation. He is still one of the best-selling Dutch writers abroad and his Zen trilogy is still regularly read in Buddhist circles.


In this biography, the question is asked whether Van de Wetering was a merchant or a missionary. Newspaper articles, weblogs and documentaries show a freethinker who succeeded in much of what he undertook. That picture is correct. But he was also a complex personality who was constantly looking for a way to allay his anxiety. He wrote about it with style, humor and intelligence. The main message that Buddhism taught him was detachment is subtle, indifference is stupid. More information about the biography is on the website of the NLclub New York. The Dutch journalist Willem Meiners, biographer of the American president Harding, wrote on Janwillem van de Wetering in Maine in de Dutch Touch Newsletter.

Mark Schreiber, author and translator, based in Tokyo since 1966, reviewed the work of Van de Wetering in the eighties (on Saito, Mainichi Daily News, 30 september 1985) wrote about Van de Wetering:

“For this American, living as a university student in Japan in the 1960s was a lot like camping out, and the amenities with which one was accustomed in the US — like central heating and hot running water — were few and far between. Thanks to ‘The Empty Mirror’, I realized the discomforts I had tolerated in a student hostel in Tokyo were next to nothing compared with what van der Wetering had endured at a Zen temple in Kyoto. I suppose I could say that reading ‘The Empty Mirror’ fostered a kind of enlightenment, or at least a realization that other foreigners could not only manage to go months without creature comforts, but could learn, absorb knowledge, and pass some of that knowledge along to others through a book. Which, in van de Wetering’s case, turned out to be the springboard for an enviable literary career.”

Schreiber send these quotes in The Mystery Lover’s Book of Quotations, complied and arranged by Jane E. Horning, Mysterious Press, New York, 1988 (p.210):

Even an honest man gets tempted when faced by an idiot. (The Maine Massacre, 1979)

Suicide requires an act of will. It is easier to become careless. (ibid.)

To live with guilt strengthens character. (Sergeant Jurriaans, The Streetbird)

Once everything becomes the way it should be, what do you do? (Sergeant Rinus de Gier’s reflection, The Rattle Rat, 1985)