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Het verdriet van België : roman by Hugo…

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

by Hugo Claus

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1,081197,716 (3.69)53
Title:Het verdriet van België : roman
Authors:Hugo Claus
Info:Bezige Bij (1983), Editie: 1e druk, Hardcover, 774 pagina's
Collections:Your library

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The Sorrow of Belgium by Hugo Claus (1983)

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English (14)  Dutch (4)  French (1)  All (19)
Showing 1-5 of 14 (next | show all)
In his essay collection Familiearchief : notities over voorouders, tijdgenoten en mijzelf the Dutch historian E.H. Kossmann describes how in the Netherlands the culture of writing about the war has resulted in the paradigm that a number of people were collaborators, and therefore "black" or bad, a number of people was in the resistance, and therefore "white" or good, while most of the population was "grey", and therefore "suspicious. While the Black/White view can be explained and accepted, categorizing the rest of the population as suspicious is rather peculiar. Kossmann suggests that as long as people did not eagerly collaborate, while collaboration was limited for the necessity of one's personal survival, the general population should be considered good. In Dutch novels about the Second World War, this division is almost always very clear.

However, in reality, of course, things were not so clear, and although it would perhaps be too strong to use the word "suspicious" any form of "limited collaboration" is extremely flexible and can be interpreted in very many ways. Likewise, the justification of personal survival, possibly extended to family members is very pliable.

That is just what Hugo Claus's novel Het verdriet van België is about. Describing the lives of a number of ordinary Belgium people, from shortly before the war and throughout the war years, there are no obvious collaborators. Neither does Claus focus on the resistance. The characters in his novel belong to the general population, and how they deal with the occupation on a day-to-day basis. ( )
1 vote edwinbcn | Feb 12, 2017 |
Het verdriet van België is Claus's great, sprawling, historical, autobiographical, satirical, send-up of what his neighbours and relatives did in the Second World War. It's a divisive book - as you would expect when it paints a largely one-sided picture of a country where it's rare for political questions to have as few as five or six sides - but it seems to have established itself as the definitive novel about Belgium during the occupation.

The title makes you expect a lamentation of the hardships and abuses the Belgian people were subjected to at the hands of the Germans. The opening chapters, where the 10-year-old narrator, Louis, is at a convent boarding school in the spring and summer of 1939, keep up this anticipation of gloom to come, but it soon turns out to be fraudulent in several ways.

For one thing, the Germans only appear in very minor offstage roles: the actual horrors (and there are plenty of these, don't worry) are all perpetrated by Belgians who have been drawn into collaboration with the Nazis either by personal greed and ambition or by distorted ideals of Flemish nationalism that make them see the Nazis as their natural allies against the hated French. Plus a fair bit of damage "accidentally" done to Belgium by the countries that are fighting to liberate it.

For another thing, the amoral viewpoint character Louis and the narrator, who increasingly identifies with him as the book goes on, clearly take a great, Rabelaisian pleasure in watching the theatre of moral deformation and physical destruction that is growing up around them as people get the chance to do something about the petty jealousies and envies they have been harbouring for decades. There's no shortage of corruption based on church, family and party connections; denunciations, slander, incest, murder, and simple theft.

Although Claus frequently makes fun of the Flemish nationalists' tendency to relate everything to their nation's glory days five or six centuries ago, there is a lot in this book that reminds you of one of those very busy early renaissance Flemish paintings. It is a very messy sort of book, with dozens of storylines appearing and disappearing at will, more characters than your average Dickens novel, and a narrative that has a disconcerting habit of hopping about between realistic and dream sequences without warning. The language takes some getting used to, as well, as it's relentlessly Flemish (if you're used to standard Dutch, then the experience is a bit like reading a novel that's written in Scots when you're used to standard English - you can make most of it out, but it takes a moment or two, and sometimes you have to go back a bit and read it aloud...). Claus is clearly determined not to "clean up" the way his characters talk any more than he would clean up their politics or their morals, and he wants to emphasise that all his characters have their roots in the Flemish mud. And it's very egotistical - the book stops abruptly, directly Louis achieves literary glory for the first time, without any consideration for fates of the the dozens of characters whose plots have not been resolved yet. All over Flanders, wives are still missing husbands, prisoners are still awaiting verdicts, lovers ununited, children unborn, dinners half-cooked, diseases uncured, and we'll never know how they came out.

I found that this was a book that I only really started to enjoy about 3/4 of the way through, when the penny dropped that the humour was not just incidental, it is the real point of the book. Claus seems to be arguing that most people - at least in Flanders - are not involved in great struggles of good and evil, but are trying to find a way to reconcile their material self-interest with their desire to look good in the eyes of their neighbours. From time to time the compromises they reach have truly great or truly horrifying effects, and perhaps the only way we can come to terms with the horrible banality of this is to find a way to laugh about it. ( )
1 vote thorold | Feb 9, 2017 |

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 | May 26, 2016 |
The Sorrow of Belgium is supposed to be the single most important book by a Flemish author. I can agree why some (most?) people believe so, but even for an avid reader as myself, I did have to overcome some difficulty and boredom getting to the end of it. However, the further the story progressed, the more interesting and even captivating it became.

After reading the book and taking some time to contemplate over it, I must come to the conclusion however that it indeed is a magnificent opus and that I'm very happy to have read it.

I'm not sure how well it would read in a translated version, as it's *very* Flemish, indeed. ( )
1 vote bbbart | May 30, 2015 |

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 |
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» Add other authors (23 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Hugo Clausprimary authorall editionscalculated
Cortese, LuisaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Errico, GiancarloTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pomerans, Arnold J.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:27 -0400)

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