When I’ve asked people to tell me who they consider the best Dutch writer to be, Harry Mulisch has been everyone’s answer. Having read his novel The Assault, I understand why.
The Assault, or De Aanslag in its original Dutch title, tells the story of Anton Steenwijk right at the end of the World War II and his life after the war. His family falls victim to an injustice while the Nazi military is still in the Netherlands. Anton tries to forget this tragedy and move on with his life, however, the more he tries to forget, the more destiny forces him to face what happened. As his past visits his present life, Anton discovers what truly happened that night, and he attempts to come to terms with the way his life played out.
There are many stories about World War II and, although I’ve read only a handful, I find this one to be the best one in regards to style. Every story is interesting and unique, and I am particularly fond of memoirs from the Hunger Winter. Although Mulisch’s story is fictional, it is full of the details of the suffering, the hardships of the war, as well as the joy when the country was liberated and the rebuilding process.
Personally, I’ve never lived a war in my home country, and I know that makes me very fortunate. The wars my family has lived have been old old wars. Although it has been many years since World War II, to me it feels recent; it is part of modern history. I am intrigued by the stories of grandparents who survived, who fought against the Nazis, who helped rebuild the country. The Assault is one of those novels that fit together with all the stories I’ve heard and read.
I don’t want to spoil the book for you, so I am including this short clip of the movie version of the book.
Mulisch, H. (1986). The Assault. New York: Pantheon.