Thursday, August 13, 2015

Review of The Sorrow of Belgium


I've finished this gigantic difficult book. I must say, I love reading about WW2 because it affected my country in a significant way and it shaped our present day and age in so many obvious and conspicuous ways.
In that regard I must say that often the material is hard to get through because where do you write about the reality of it and how do you describe it.
There's romantic fiction, for instance Atonement, or more heroic matter, like The Caine Mutiny, but there's also the example of The Kindly Ones which is also a very dark novel about this still recent war in our memories.
The Sorrow of Belgium has a lot in common with the Kindly Ones. Of course the point of view isn't German, but I'm afraid I must admit that most Belgians weren't as good to the bone as I'd like to think they were. It seems that now we are betrayed of having a powerful resistance and we lived under German law in despair and fear, but as Claus paints his picture it seems that we thrived under the Germans and we were equally against the allied powers, because it were their bombs destroying our homes and killing our loved ones.
Not until the end I noticed a change and not so much because we hated what we were living under, but because the horrible truth came out of Hitler's regime.
It must have been a confusing time. First to see that you fit in with everyone and later on being punished for just doing what everyone else did.

I'm belgian, so this novel takes place in my country, in a place not too far away from me. I can, to some extent, relate to the protagonist because it happened here where I live and I can feel what he felt, because I grew up in a environment much like it. I' m a child of the eighties where we still felt the scars the war left us, but which was in so many ways a much better period to grow up than today.
Louis Seynaeve, the protagonist, spends his youth mainly bored and dragged to his family members, or dropped of at school where he stays as intern.
He spends his time thinking of stories, telling them to his class mates and imagining so much more. He takes the cruelty of the war and the period before when it wasn't sure a war would ever come to pass, and molds into something romantic where he mostly puts himself in the center of.
The insecurities of his time, plus the fact that he is slowly going through his puberty which brings more confusion in his life, is the basis for a story that took me months to finish.

The reason it took me so long, is not because it's a bad book. Au contraire, The Sorrow of Belgium is deeply meaningful and very layered, which is the reason why I took my time reading it. There is just no rushing this novel.

Claus did a very good job giving me a sense of Belgium before and during the war, for which I am grateful. May he rest in peace and his literary works remembered forever.