Tobi Lakmaker on literary references in The History of My Sexuality

Tobi also chats how the Dutch and English audience might perceive the book differently.


The History of My Sexuality is an autofiction. This concept might be slightly harder to grasp but whatever it is, Tobi Lakmaker did a great job in their job. You will feel like Tobi is chatting with you while you read the novel and you will laugh and roll your eyes with the protagonist Sofie. To celebrate this thought-provoking debut, we invited Tobi Lakmaker to chat with us about the concept behind their book:

1. The History of My Sexuality namedrops quite a number of books, movies, and characters. How did you pick those?

In the prologue it says that Sofie, the protagonist, is failing to become an intellectual because she falls asleep every time she tries to read a book. Further on, you do notice that some books make an impression on her and stick with her, in a sense. The picking of those books and movies was quite a natural process, as this protagonist is heavily based on myself.

2. Were you worried that readers who don’t follow these references would be confused? Out of all the references you mentioned, which one would you encourage readers to watch / read?

To the Dutch audience the references are of course very clear. And I think most translators handled it pretty well: the Norwegian translation contains a list, for example, at the end of the book in which all references are explained. Kristen Gehrman, my English translator, sometimes explained things in the running text in a way that felt subtle enough for me. Sometimes she didn’t explain anything, which is I think also legit: then you guys finally have to immerse yourselves in Dutch culture.
I would encourage readers to watch Son of Saul, although not on a first date as Sofie does in the book, as it tells the story of a prisoner in Auschwitz. To ‘stay’ in Auschwitz: If This is A Man by Primo Levi is one of the most beautiful, most impressive books I’ve ever read.

3. Speaking of readers, you like to address them directly. Why is that the case? When writing The History of My Sexuality, did you imagine yourself delivering this as a stand up comedy show, or more like a story to a friend?

Neither, I suppose. It just felt like the most urgent, most personal story I had to tell, which maybe made me somewhat anxious to lose the attention of the reader. I wanted the story to be aggressive, in the sense that it was impossible to look away. I basically just didn’t want people to grab their iPhone every now and then, which is a very complicated battle – the battle against iPhones.

4. The History of My Sexuality is originally written in Dutch. Do you think the Dutch audience and the English audience react differently to your book?

I do think English people are somewhat more intelligent than Dutch people. Or your literary audience, at least. Writing autofiction in The Netherlands still causes some sort of fuss, and leads to very uninteresting conversations about what has truly happened and what hasn’t. In my experience, English readers are more able to see past this – which saves everyone a lot of time. Next to this, I think the UK audience is a little bit less hung up on the fact that this story contains a genderqueer protagonist. Either that, or they have the decency to at least hide the fact that they are hung up on it.

5. And finally, The History of My Sexuality is a great debut novel. What’s next? Something entirely different or?

Thank you, first of all. When I just finished The History of My Sexuality, I was quite convinced my second novel would focus on football – not on the rules of the game of course, it would be a story about a young girl in a boys team, wanting to become a professional. I like sports as a theme in literature. Anyways, this is not what I’m going to do. Regrettably, I feel the urge to write something extremely personal again. So that’s what it’s going to be.

Get your copy of The History of My Sexuality by Tobi Lakmaker from Amazon.

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