Jef Geeraerts (1930-2015) was a novelist, translator and essayist and one of the driving forces behind literary modernism in Flanders. The bourgeois environment from which he originated and his experience as a civil servant in the Belgian colony Congo left their mark on his literary work. After Congo’s independence in 1960, he returned to Belgium and began to write. He published his debut in 1962 and built up an impressive body of work. He wrote several Congo novels which continue to stir a lot of controversy. From the 1980s, Geeraerts devoted himself to writing crime novels and so set out the parameters for the modern Flemish crime novel. Typically, while his writing style in his Congo books is fast-paced, without full stops or commas, in his crime novels he works methodically, paying great attention to detail. In addition to novels, Geeraerts also wrote travel stories, journalistic pieces and stage and radio plays. Nature, hunting and eroticism are recurring elements in his work.
His Gangrene Cycle, a series of four novels in which the author recounts his experiences in the Belgian army in Congo, gained him international acclaim, but also garnered a fair amount of criticism. These books have been through dozens of printings and have been translated into numerous languages. ‘Gangreen 1 – black venus’, especially, became one of the most talked-about novels from post-war Flanders. The controversy surrounding the publication is still very much alive. Originally lauded as brilliant, but today mainly decried for extolling racism, colonial despotism and misogyny.
Photo © Sven van Baarle