Robert van Gulik's Een gegevan dag was first published in Dutch in 1963 and translated into English by the author as The Given Day the subsequent year. The story takes place on the evening of February 28 through the afternoon of the next day, February 29. The dates are a crucial plot point. Over the course of the novel, both the main character, Hendriks, and his antagonists realize that they have forgotten about the extra day. Toward the beginning of the novel, Hendriks is having a drink in a bar prior to meeting his friends for dinner at his club, as he does on the last day of each month:

The publican has placed his fat finger on the smudged leaf of the wall-calendar, under today's date, the 28th. He says in an aggrieved voice:
      "And then I told the ornery bastard, look here, you, I says, you can see the date for yourself, can't you?" He takes his finger away. "But that ..."
      I don't hear the rest. For by removing his finger he has uncovered a large figure. The figure 29. It grows larger and larger before my horrified eyes. Suddenly I break out in a cold sweat. This year is a leap-year, and consequently February has twenty-nine days. Tonight of all nights I shan't dine at the club. I shall be alone.

van Gulik, Robert. The Given Day. 1964. Originally published in Dutch as Een gegevan dag, 1963. Translated by the author. Miami Beach: Dennis McMillan, 1986. p. 6.

Later, Hendriks overhears the bad guys complaining about being stuck in Amsterdam with nothing to do:

      "I hate waiting, Achmad. Especially in this damned cold and wet town." Pointing with his chin at the other end of the room he adds: "It's all the fault of that fat fool over there, the stupid son of a dog."
      "It's Figel's mistake all right," Achmad admits. "He was told that the Djibouty would sail for Alexandria on the last day of this month, and Figel thought it meant she would sail today. Since, however, this month happens to have twenty-nine days this year, the Djibouty will sail tomorrow. We can do nothing but wait."

ibid., p.38.

Had either Hendriks or his antagonists remembered that it was a leap year, there would be no story. van Gulik's English title, The Given Day, therefore appears to underline this specific date.

The way van Gulik uses the phrase, it appears that "given day" is a term for Leap Day. In the process of solving the mystery of what the villains are up to, Hendriks also gains some insight into his own troubled past:

When Uyeda's Zen master in Kyoto found that his pupil could not find the final answer, he sent him away. But to me the answer was granted, on this twenty-ninth of February, this given day.

ibid., p. 129.

But I have been unable to find any other examples of February 29 being called "given day." van Gulik's Dutch title, Een gegevan dag, seems to translate to "a given day" or "any given day," rather than refer specifically to this date. Further puzzling in this context is what appears to be a shift from an indefinite article in the original to the definite article in the English translation.

However, van Gulik was a polyglot who spoke Dutch, Malay, English, Arabic, Japanese, and Mandarin with fluency. All these languages play a part in the novel, and it is possible that Leap Day is referred to as "the given day” in one of them. Is "the given day" a commonly understood term for February 29, in English, Dutch or any other languages van Gulik spoke? If not, what is the significance of the title, and why does Hendricks refer to the date as "this given day"? Is it merely a legal, scriptural, or otherwise formulaic expression for the particular day on which something occurs?

  • I’d like to share my conjecture on a different matter. As you noted, the book was first published in Dutch in The Netherlands in 1963. According to Janwillem van de Wetering, it was not well-received. The first English publication was by Art Printing Press, a small publisher in Malaya or by the time of its publication, Malaysia, and it was published in 1964. RvG was in The Hague at this time. My conjecture is that he was unable to find a publisher in the West and reconnected with his former publisher. So, it came perilously close that we would not have this work in English.
    – JudgeDee
    May 15 at 12:18


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