Discovery of Heaven - Harry Mulisch - Book Cover
Contemporary,  Historical

The Discovery of Heaven – Harry Mulisch

Harry Mulisch has written his intriguing and fascinating masterpiece The Discovery of Heaven – the best Dutch book ever – one of my personal favourites.


As I live in the Netherlands I thought it fitting to write my first book review about a famous Dutch writer and his book The Discovery of Heaven (De Ontdekking van de Hemel). This book has been selected as ‘best Dutch book ever’ by the Dutch public. So call me prejudiced but keep on reading and hopefully, you fall in love with this book as much as I did.


The book has been described as Harry Mulisch’ magnum opus and I fully agree. It is a breathtaking tale, daring and beyond the reach and boundaries of human living. There is a Plan, which is being discussed among angels, to influence several people’s lives in order to regain the Stone Tablets of the Ten Commandments God gave Moses. There has to be born a special messenger with the necessary qualifications to be able to accomplish such a difficult task. In order to secure this messenger will be born on earth, a series of events is set in motion to ensure the protagonists Onno and Max meet and become friends for life, up to loving the same woman Ada. They each come from different backgrounds: where Onno is born in the Netherlands into a Conservative political family, Max is a child from a German officer and Jewish woman. Both men are born in 1933, so you can see why that combination of Max’ parents would be very dangerous in the German pre-war and World War II years. 

The woman they both fall in love with is Ada, born in 1946 of Dutch parents. After the death of her father, she and her mother keep his little bookshop open, but Ada’s passion is the cello, she is quite good at it. One day Onno and Max enter the bookshop and Max and Ada fall in love. Where Max is Ada’s first love, he in turn never had a lasting relationship in his life, no wonder that theirs is not going to last. When Max leaves, the serious Onno, deeply in love with Ada, takes his place, so to speak. Upon Max’s return, he accepts Onno and Ada are a couple, the three of them stay close friends and together they embark on a trip to Cuba. There the plot the angels have woven culminates: they have arranged that both the brilliant Onno and the astronomist Max will attribute to the conception of Ada’s child. The trip to Cuba, therefore, leads not only to Ada being pregnant but has also certain consequences for Onno’s political career. 

Events start happening, from a terrible accident to the birth of Quinten, officially Onno’s son but with crystal clear blue eyes that always make Onno wonder… Follow Onno, Max and Quinten on their path through life, maybe not always together but the strong bonds of friendship and love that bind keep them connected. Where the angels are plotting to make their plans go accordingly and keep in mind their ultimate goal of retrieving the Tablets, the humans follow the path that is laid before them. This leads them through space and time, in the years following there are several countries to be visited until eventually, everything ends in Jerusalem. On the way each discovers the life that he must lead, the influence the past has on their lives and how to accept all this for themselves.

My Thoughts

The tale left me in awe: I was touched and overwhelmed, my only thoughts were wow, what an amazing and wonderful book. This is a work of art, a true masterpiece, wherein the lives we human lead are being influenced by not only the past but also the angels in the sky. If you do not believe in angels, in a form of God, in the Ten Commandments, not to worry: the story is one of adventure and philosophy, in itself worth reading and everyone is free to interpret and think whatever he/she wants to think. As long as the book is being read, being talked about and thought about because that is what keeps an author alive. Harry Mulisch is my favourite Dutch author and I love his eloquence and writing style. The novel is expertly crafted and I consider The Discovery of Heaven his best book ever! Highly recommended!

About the Author

Harry Mulisch Author Image

After death (2010), Harry Mulisch still is a great Dutch author, with his 1982 novel The Assault adapted for film as well as this 1992 book The Discovery of Heaven. Mulisch referred to himself as ‘being WW II’, being the son of an Austrian-Hungarian father and a Jewish mother, living in the Netherlands. The attentive reader will find both in Onno and Max certain characteristics of Mulisch, some biographical elements. So come with me to the Netherlands and dive into the mind of this great Dutch author by reading his wonderful masterpiece!

Book Info

The Discovery of Heaven is available at Amazon.

 Pages  736
 Publisher  Penguin (Nov 1997)
 ISBN (paperback)  9780140239379


  • writerchristophfischer

    I really enjoyed this book. I read it in the early 1990s in the German translation and it became my favourite book for years to come. I still have it. I also enjoyed one of his later works, “The Assault(?)”, set in Nazi occupied Holland. A very talented writer. 🙂

  • Caroline

    Yes, I’ve also read the Assault. Did you know that Mulisch himself had been to Cuba and met with Castro? I had read the book in Dutch, haven’t read it in German. Thanks for your thoughts, Christoph.

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