A small novel from 1982 by the Dutch writer Harry Mulisch. The novel begins with a rumination on the scene of violence that is going to the be the center of the novel and the in the life of Anton Steenwijk throughout. Like Anton, we don’t know what’s going on except that it’s at the end of the war in occupied Netherlands, that things seem to be winding down, and therefore, a sense of cautious optimism and safety is permeating Haarlem. This proves to be a false sense. A local Nazi collaborator is killed as a kind of uprising, but also as a way to head off his danger to the town, but this leads to a reprisal. Anton survives and is sent to live with an uncle who raises him. As he grows older his life seems important, but middling as he becomes a doctor. The novel visits Anton in several different parts of his life as he tries to reckon and understand what this act of violence (the reprisal) was, what it meant, and how it affected him.
The novel is slim and poignant, but it also feels like Anton, to be grasping for a set of language (informed understanding of trauma) that later writers like WG Sebald would be able to grapple with in later years. I am interested in what feels like intentionally sparse language that comes with understanding and especially the ways in which we engage with violence, without understanding it.