Jacoba van Velde’s (1903–1985) forgotten masterpiece tells the story of an elderly woman’s last days. Libraries around the country will give away 100,000 copies to members between Friday 22 October and Friday 19 November. The covers of 10,000 have been left plain white to inspire readers to decorate them.
Three prominent designers will judge the entries. The winner’s name will be announced on Friday 12 November. The award ceremony will feature a guest presentation on how anyone can design a book cover. We will announce the speaker’s name soon.
THE BIG WARD, by Jacoba van Velde, a major literary success in Europe, is an uncommonly honest novel about the ordinary death of an ordinary old woman. In it, Dutch Author Jacoba van Velde manages to skirt the standard literary paths to death—cynicism, hysteria, indifference and bravado. Her setting is an old-women's nursing home, and in it the place to avoid is the big ward. To be moved there from the little ward, which beds only six, is a sure sign that the doctors have sighted the end; to be switched from the big to the little is to be given a reprieve. Mrs. Van der Veen has had a stroke at home, but when she awakes, she is still in the little ward. She is 74. "A good age," the doctor says. But what can be good about it? Her husband is dead. Her only child is married to a poverty-bound painter in Paris. And the nagging pain in her stomach is no mystery to either the doctor or the reader. But though she dreads death, it is the contemplation of life present and past that makes Mrs. Van der Veen touching.