My Little War
Translated by Paul Vincent
The great Flemish writer Louis Paul Boon began his life's work with this extraordinary novel, a story of World War II as seen through the unglamorous, uncourageous, unhistorical eyes of the man on the street. Frustrated with the dainty, straightforward, neatly chronological narratives that dominated fiction in his country, Boon started including overheard conversations, newspaper articles, manifestos, and other sights and noises of daily life in his work. Happily foul-mouthed and dirty-minded, eager to wade into the mud, Boon was resolutely unliterary while pursuing the most literary of goals: a new kind of writing, and a more honest way of looking at the world.
Read an additional excerpt from My Little War at The Collagist.
Nb of pages 120 p.
Publication Date 2010
Nb of pages 120
List Price $12.95
A little writer writes his little war but what great writer will rise up now and present us with his Book About the Great War—with capital letters? But "present" is far too proper a word for such a book. Sling it in our faces, hurl it at our dismayed consciences would be nearer the truth.
Perhaps you'll do it, you who’ve lost all your worldly goods, as they say, but who as a human being have lost much more, having been evacuated like so much livestock and deported like a criminal, bombed and machine-gunned and toyed with like an empty can being kicked around by a bunch of kids, who’ve died a hundred times over, mutilated gagged and teeth knocked out with a wrench, so that, sitting there like Job with his boils, you . . . No, sitting there like little Frans Wauters, whose job it was to deliver letters to foreign laborers in Kassel in Germany and who during an air raid took cover down a drain and who when he came out could no longer see Kassel . . . If they’d slid a chair under my trembling legs as I sat there I could have surveyed all-that-had-once-been-Kassel . . . And so sitting there on that chair and looking at what-had-once-been-the-world, you’d be able to write the book that we might not have found the courage to read, or about which we might say: I don’t understand it . . . because we’re used to reading words stuck together with lifeless characters and are only able to appreciate something when, as they say, it has rhythm, but no meaning. Because you’d write words born of sweat and mud and dying horses in an upturned wagon and blocks of houses torn apart by the blast, and blood. With those words you’d construct sentences like twisted rails that start out perfectly normal but soon twist up into the air, as if the bombed trains were straining to take off into the sky but when the rails ended crashed back to earth. You’d make sentences like arms extended in pity but faltering halfway because pity’s not appropriate here . . . because if our hands don’t kill we’ll be killed ourselves, our books will be burned and our paintings condemned as degenerate and our finest thoughts regarded as the thoughts of madmen, and all that’s left will be the thoughts of sadists and medieval heretic-burners. And your bloody words, strung together into painfully contorted sentences, will form pages like fields strewn with mines and churned up by tanks, like the silent and still faintly smoldering cities of Warsaw Coventry Hamburg Kharkov Rotterdam and the whole of Russia which they tried to make us believe was inhabited entirely by sluts who ate their own children and men who ran around with knives between their clenched teeth.
Los Angeles Times
Boon's pervasive nihilism also calls to mind the darker novels of another Belgian, the crime writer Georges Simenon. Yet the most distinctive feature of his narrative is its mode of address, which shuttles back and forth between the easy intimacy of war gossip and the hysterical ravings of someone confessing to things that will get him ostracized or shot or worse.
It's as if to say life is hard, with or without air raids. Which isn’t really a profound thought, but Boon comes at it from a new and interesting way. Lines that might appear raw or half-developed or even throwaway in another context here begin to feel deep and knowing and perfect—like they couldn’t be said any other way.
His blitz technique produces its strangest effects in this little journal from the war and the post-war period, which booms crazily, as if Boon's typewriter had been rattling away like a machine-gun. -R. F. Lissens
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Genres : Fiction : Europe : Western Europe
Genres : Fiction : Historical Fiction : World War II and Holocaust
Countries : Belgium