Friday, March 28, 2008

Hugo Claus: The Sorrow of Belgium

In 1983, 25 years ago, Hugo Claus' Het Verdriet van België (The Sorrow of Belgium) was first published. Next to his poetry it is his most personal book; one in which he weaves many of his childhood memories. He spent his entire childhood, from the age of 18 months until he was eleven, in a boarding school, and this made a huge impact on his life.

The Sorrow of Belgium is a family epic which takes place from 1939-1947. Louis Seynaeve is eleven years old at the beginning of the story and attends a Catholic boarding school, where he together with three of his friends has a secret club called the "Four Apostles".

Louis' family is pro-German, and they are relieved when the Germans invade Belgium, as they feel the war will be good for Flanders and will help it to get out from under the domination of the French-speaking Belgians. Louis decides to become a writer, and once he begins to be exposed to other ideas and books, his opinion of the Germans slowly starts to change. When Belgium is liberated, Louis' family disintegrates; his father is arrested and jailed for collaborating with the Germans.

The book paints a detailed and colorful picture of Belgium: family relationships, village life, politics, poverty, Catholicism, and finally, it is an intimate portrait of a child's life and coming of age.

As I mentioned in a previous post, even before Hugo Claus passed away last week, there were many activities surrounding the 25th anniversary of this book, considered one of the classics in Belgian literature. One of those activities was a "reading marathon" held here in Leuven in February. DJ Bobby Ewing (our official "town DJ") has just made an audio "remix" of this event including well known Belgians reading passages from the book, set to music. It can be downloaded for free at:

A memorial service for Claus will be held this Saturday at 11 am in the Bourla Theatre in Antwerpen.


Joan Manuel Lanfranco Pari said...

I've searched for this book (in English) in all the libraries in Leuven, and couldn't get it yet... Maybe in Brussels. I really like your blog :-)


Joan Manuel Lanfranco Pari said...

Oh that's very kind of you! I would really appreciate that, at least until I find a copy of the book. A very good friend of mine is reading the original (in Flemmish), and would be very nice to share thoughts about this book with him.

We certainly live in a small world :-) Thank you again and have a nice weekend.