Paul Van Der Velde, "Life Under the Palms: The Sublime World of the Anti-Colonialist Jacob Haafner" (NUS Press, 2020)

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Jacob Gotfried Haafner (1754–1809) was one of the most popular European travel writers of the early nineteenth century, writing in the Romantic mode. A Dutch citizen, Haafner spent more than twenty years of his early life living outside of Europe, in India, Ceylon, Mauritius, Java, and South Africa. Books like his popular Travels in a Palanquin were translated into the major European languages, and his essays against the work of Christian missionaries in Asia stirred up great controversy. Haafner worked to spread understanding of the cultures he’d come to know in his journeys, promoting European understanding of Indian literature, myth, and religion, translating the Ramayana into Dutch.

In Life Under the Palms: The Sublime World of the Anti-Colonialist Jacob Haafner (NUS Press, 2020), Paul van der Velde tells an affecting story of a young man who made a world for himself along the Coromandel Coast, in Ceylon and Calcutta, but who returned to Europe to live the last years of his life in Amsterdam, suffering an acute nostalgia for Asia. This is compelling reading for anyone interested in European response to the cultures of Asia.

Cresa Pugh is a PhD Candidate in sociology and social policy at Harvard University. For more information visit and follow her on Twitter @CresaPugh.

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