Born in the small town of Harlingen, Vestdijk studied medicine in Amsterdam, but turned to literature after a few years as a doctor. He became one of the most important 20th-century writers in the Netherlands. His prolificity as a novelist was legendary, but he was at least as important as an essayist on e.g., literature, art, music and religion. He also wrote poetry and short stories. His work has been translated into most Western European languages.