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Het verdriet van België : roman by Hugo…
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Het verdriet van België : roman (original 1983; edition 1983)

by Hugo Claus

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985178,714 (3.7)39
Member:jbckaert
Title:Het verdriet van België : roman
Authors:Hugo Claus
Info:Bezige Bij (1983), Editie: 1e druk, Hardcover, 774 pagina's
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The Sorrow of Belgium by Hugo Claus (1983)

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English (12)  Dutch (4)  French (1)  All languages (17)
Showing 1-5 of 12 (next | show all)
http://nwhyte.livejournal.com/2313093.html

This is another of those classic Belgian novels, a largely autobiographical account of a boy growing up in rural Flanders in the years just before, during and after the Second World War. I read it in the original Dutch, and at 715 pages I think that is the longest book I have ever read in a language other than English. It took me almost a month, though as you will have noticed, I managed to read one or two other books along the way as well.

I very much enjoyed the start of the book, and it was enough to keep me going to the end. The first third or so is set in the years leading up to the war; our protagonist (who veers between third-person "Louis" and first-person "ik", sometimes several times on the same page) attends a school run by nuns carrying forth the mission of educating reluctant Catholic kids in a divided society on the verge of horrendous conflict, where he hangs out with a small group of friends with shared odd literary interests. Obviously I found nothing there that related to my own experience of growing up in Belfast during the Troubles at all. Especially the school. Though we did not have quite the same reverence for the British royals that Louis' relatives have for their Belgian equivalents.

Then, of course, the Germans invade and occupy Belgium. Louis' father, a printer whose politics have always been pro-Nazi, finds it surprisingly tough to make ends continue to meet with his heroes in charge. His mother finds her own accommodation with the Germans to get lipstick and sausages, and also to get the emotional satisfaction her husband is incapable of supplying. Louis himself has his horizons broadened by a Hitler Youth trip to Mecklenburg in eastern Germany, where he stays briefly with a much more affectionate family than his own; and then again when his father brings him to Brussels, a place of unspeakable pleasures, and he gets a magical afternoon of cultural awakening browsing in a library of confiscated "degenerate" books, while prisoners are being interrogated (and perhaps worse) in the courtyard outside.

So it's a story of coming of age during the Second World War in Nazi Europe, like Die Blechtrommel, with the difference that there is no fantastical element, just a blurring of the narrator's identity between "Louis" and "ik". The monsters here are very human - not so much the Nazis, but the Belgians whose carefully designed and enclosing social structures allow horror to flourish in the school playground and in the bedroom and the living-room. By the end of the book, Louis is on his way to becoming a published author, using a Hebrew motto for his submitted manuscripts (his father having mumbled an apology for the Holocaust to a dumbfounded American soldier who happened to be Jewish). It is a very long book, and I can see why reluctant Belgian schoolkids may consider it a cruel and unusual punishment. But as an immigrant to Flanders, particularly coming from where I come from, I found it rather revealing; a bit like Portrait of the Artist, but fifty years later, in a different but similar country.

While I think one could do a decent enough English translation (and no doubt it has been done), there are a lot of nuances that would be difficult to carry over. In particular, the use of language - more or less thick Flemish rather than standard Dutch - is at the heart of the book. For instance, people here generally use the pronoun "ge" for the second person "you"; for those who first learned the Netherlandish variety of Dutch (as I did) it sounds odd - "ge" is used up north only to address God, or by Belgians and South Africans. Even weirder, the accusative form of "ge" is "u", which is the polite pronoun in the Netherlands - even after fifteen years here, I still find it very disconcerting to hear parents and children use "u" to each other (rather than the Netherlandish familiar form, "je" or "jij") in phrases like "dank u" ("thank you") or "dit is voor u" ("this is for you"). Even in Flemish children's literature, such as the popular comic series Suske en Wiske or translations of Tintin (translated literally as Kuifje, "Tufty"), characters generally use the alien northern "jij" to each other. Claus went for a more realist approach, and it matters to the story he tells.

That's not all. Louis' father's pro-German poltiics, and his mother's relationships with German soldiers, mean that there are a lot of conversations where key words are in German. For a Dutch speaker, this isn't normally such a big deal, and indeed the German words in the book aren't marked off from the Dutch in any way other than the nouns being capitalised. I think that would be impossible to carry through into any other language. (Indeed, I wonder how one might tackle a German translation of Het Verdriet van België.) There's also the casual use of French (like me, Louis and his family live very close to what is now the Belgian linguistic border, the taalgrens; unlike me, they also live close to the frontier with France) which drops off during the book (rather like Buddenbrooks, but for different reasons). The occasional use of French, and the concomitant cultural cringe, is not unique to 1930s and 1940s Belgium, of course (see also War and Peace). But the nuances here are rather specific.

Anyway, I may try the English translation as well some day, in case there are things I missed as I struggled through the original version. But this was worth the struggle for now. ( )
  nwhyte | Jul 14, 2014 |
READ IN DUTCH

Bij Nederlands is Het verdriet van België van Hugo Claus een van die boeken van het hoogste niveau. Verschillende mensen zijn al op de hoogte van mijn wil een goede lijst voort te brengen en dat ik daarom dus dit boek gekozen heb. Maar er is meer, ik wilde ook graag een Vlaams boek op mijn lijst zetten, omdat anders het evenwicht Nederland/België wel heel erg verstoord was.

Wij zien in Het verdriet van België de ontwikkeling van Louis Seynaeve in Walle, België (of beter: Vlaanderen) gedurende de jaren vlak voor tot vlak na de tweede wereldoorlog. Het verhaal begint wanneer Louis op elfjarige leeftijd in het 'Gesticht'. Na het uitbreken van de tweede wereldoorlog speelt dit een belangrijke rol in het verhaal. Geen heldendaden, maar een gewoon leven.

Een behoorlijk dikke pil, dit boek van 750 pagina's. Het eerste dat opvalt, behalve de omvang, is het Vlaams. Ik lees niet zovaak Vlaamse boeken, en ik vind dat altijd wel grappig om zo de verschillen tussen het Nederlands en het Vlaams te zien. Moeite het te volgen heb ik eigenlijk niet, want ook ik ben opgegroeid met KetNet en Belgische zwemles. Sommigen mensen schrijven dat het taalgebruik en de zinsopbouw soms lastig is, maar dit heb ik niet zo ervaren. Ik vond het best lekker lezen. In het begin duurde het even voor ik in het verhaal zat, maar later ging het toch op een redelijk tempo. Het eerste deel van het verhaal, is een verhaal in een verhaal, en je merkt het ook een beetje aan de stijl van dit eerste deel. Het tweede deel gaat over de tweede wereld oorlog en hierna. Hier lopen meer verhaallijnen door elkaar. Ik vond het verhaal redelijk, niet fantastisch zoals sommigen, niet dramatisch slecht zoals sommige anderen. Soms was het een beetje langdradig, een paar dingen vond ik erg vreemd, maar over het algemeen was het een redelijk boek. Ik zal dan ook gaan voor 3 sterren. Dat vind ik wel verdiend... ( )
  Floratina | Jan 23, 2014 |
Well huh. I really don't know what to say about this. I'm glad it's finished? It wasn't bad, but it was ... odd? Let's go with odd. Very very odd. Weird characters. Doing strange things. It's about an extended family, from the perspective of a young boy, during WWII. It details his family life, which is already a bit strained, and then there's the impact of the war on everyone; jobs, food, relationships, everything gets put under various strain, while Louis writes. I'm sure there's stuff that went totally over my head, cultural references and the like, and maybe if someone native were to discuss it, it would help me see the book a little differently? I don't know. I just don't know what to think of it.

That said, the writing was good, and various aspects of the story were interesting. And several parts made me laugh out loud. ( )
  PolymathicMonkey | Nov 7, 2013 |
The Sorrow of Belgium is a coming of age story of a young Belgian boy during World War II. Like many stories with adolescent boys, much of the book focuses on Louis' experiences in school, his relationships with his parents and friends and the typical teenage boy's fascination with sex. However the time and place add in the complexity of growing up in a country at war and a country with divided loyalties. I picked up this book because we are traveling to Belgium later this summer and wanted a book that gave some insight to the culture of the area. I was definitely surprised and learned quite a bit about the division of Belgium due to language. Before WWII, French was spoken in the southern part of Belgium and was the language of the nobility and the official language used by much of the government. The Flemish movement arose to rid the country of French. During WWII, some people saw collaboration with the Germans as a method of supporting the Flemish movement. As the main character Louis grows up and lives through the war, he experiences animosity from other Belgians because his family collaborates with the Germans. Although the story is told with much humor, the brutality and devastation of war is still present in the story.

I personally found this story interesting, but not that compelling. What could have been an incredibly strong and moving story was told with too much nonchalance and emphasis on an adolescent boy's obsession with sex. I really wanted to love this story, but felt that there was no strong message when it could have been a very powerful story. Still, good background information about Belgium and the struggles it experienced during the war. ( )
  jmoncton | Jun 3, 2013 |
A very sad, but true, tale by the author. At first an enthusiastic Nazi supporter, his further adventures led him to a different conclusion about life. ( )
  Persisto | May 1, 2010 |
Showing 1-5 of 12 (next | show all)
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Hugo Clausprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Pomerans, Arnold J.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Dondeyne had hidden one of the seven Forbidden Books under his tunic and then coaxed Louis into coming along.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0394562631, Hardcover)

A classic novel in the tradition of The Tin Drum, The Sorrow of Belgium is a searing, scathingly funny portrait of a wartime Belgium and one boy's coming of age-emotionally, sexually, and politically. Epic in scope, by turns hilarious and elegiac, The Sorrow of Belgium is the masterwork of one of the world's greatest contemporary authors.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:40:49 -0400)

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