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Dola de Jong, 92; Poe Award Winner's Novels for Juveniles Were Set Mostly in WWII Era

November 22, 2003|Myrna Oliver | Times Staff Writer

Dola de Jong, a Dutch American novelist who wrote books for juvenile readers and earned an Edgar Allen Poe Award for her adult mystery "The Whirligig of Time," has died at the age of 92.

De Jong, who based most of her fiction on the World War II era, which she experienced, died Wednesday in Laguna Woods after a long illness.

A year before winning the Edgar Award in 1964, she published an Edgar runner-up, "The House on Charlton Street."

Aside from her adult mystery novels, de Jong probably was best known for her 1951 novel "The Tree and the Vine" about a lesbian couple's survival during World War II. The book was republished by the Feminist Press in 1996.

Reviewing the novel after its republication, the Lambda Book Report praised the book as "de Jong's spare and brilliant metaphor" and said: "This historically significant glance at the compound dilemma of Jewish lesbian life during the Nazi invasion of Amsterdam well deserves to be honored as an underpinning to the cultural legacy of our lexicon."

De Jong also won the City of Amsterdam Literature Prize in 1947 for her novel "And the Field Is the World," which was republished in 1979 under the title "The Field." The book tells the tragic tale of a group of European refugee children seeking safety in Morocco during the war. It was praised in the Saturday Review of Literature as "haunting and disturbing ... beautifully written...."

Two of her children's books, "The Level Land" in 1943 and "Return to the Level Land" in 1947, concern a Dutch family caught up in the Nazi invasion of their country during the war and their post-war sheltering of a Jewish refugee. In reviewing "The Level Land," the Christian Science Monitor called the book "the most convincing story of the war yet written for young people."

Born Dorothea Rosalie de Jong in Arnhem, the Netherlands, she wrote for newspapers and, after studying dance in the Netherlands and England, performed eight years with the Royal Dutch Ballet.

Fearing a Nazi invasion in 1940 and unable to persuade her family to join her, De Jong fled to North Africa, where she married artist Jan Hoowij. The couple immigrated to the United States in 1941. In the Netherlands, De Jong's father, stepmother and one brother were murdered by the Nazis.

De Jong, who later divorced Hoowij and married writer Robert H. Joseph, became a U.S. citizen in 1947.

A linguist, she wrote in Dutch and later in English, and read manuscripts for publishers in English, French, German, Dutch, Flemish and Afrikaans. At the age of 72, she graduated from Empire State College in New York City and then taught creative writing there for several years.

De Jong is survived by her son, Ian Joseph, and one granddaughter.

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