Anton is brought up by an uncle and aunt in Amsterdam and represses his memories of that night. But chance events over the years bring them to the surface: in 1952, visiting a friend, he discovers the memorial to his family and the hostages shot that day; in 1956 he runs into Ploeg's son; in 1966 his marriage to the daughter of a Resistance leader leads to a meeting with the man who shot Ploeg; and in 1981 he meets one of the neighbours who moved the body. The result is a psychologically convincing portrait of the effects of trauma, of coping mechanisms both intellectual and emotional, and of the way time and age influence memory.
The Assault is a kind of detective story, with information gradually discovered by the protagonist, although he is not searching for it, and with an unexpected twist at the end. It is also a political novel. Though Anton remains uninterested in politics, it forms the inescapable background to his story: the ethics of using violence to resist fascism, anti-communist riots in 1956, the release on sickness grounds of a leading war criminal, and anti-war rallies in 1981. His story parallels, perhaps, that of Holland itself, his personal traumas mirroring those of the nation. The Assault is an intense and powerful work — for some it may be uncomfortably so — but one that is also hard to put down.
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- Related reviews:
- Harry Mulisch - The Discovery of Heaven
- Hugo Claus - The Sorrow of Belgium
- more Dutch literature
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- more war fiction
- books published by Harvill Press