Every year on 11 November, we commemorate Armistice Day, the end of the First World War in 1918. Even now, more than a hundred years later, the influence of the Great War can still be felt, in society as well as in books. Here we present a selection of titles from Flanders in which this war plays a significant role. We are convinced that these books, among others, can help make present and future generations aware of the importance of tolerance and international relations. After all, literature is the ideal tool for generating empathy and identification.
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Right before his death in the 1980s, Stefan Hertmans’ grandfather gave his grandson a few notebooks. For years, Hertmans was too afraid to open them – until he finally did and laid bare some unexpected secrets.
‘Woesten’ recounts a suffocating story full of village gossip about a family in which fate strikes with a heavy hand, leaving no-one unscathed. It portrays a realistic, almost naturalistic image of a typical rural village in the early 20th century and offers a nuanced view of the psychology of intriguing characters.
Amazigh, a young Moroccan, ends up behind bars after attempting to get his revenge on his French father. There’s only one way he’ll get out of prison: a one-way ticket to the French frontlines in World War I. Rachida Lamrabet tells a story that is forgotten all too often: that of the soldiers from the colonies who were swept up in a war that was not theirs.
Old Helena looks back on her youth, the loves she has known, her marriage and the distressing time she experienced in World War I. The topic and style make ‘While the Gods Were Sleeping’ in all respects an exceptional literary experience.
Without doubt thé Dutch-language novel of the year. It is the most beautiful and overwhelming First World War epic of Flemish literature to date.
This is a novel about lies, illusions and make-believe. In an excellently documented portrait of an era, Brijs exposes the gulf between the excitement about the war and the appalling reality of it, depicted in strong dramatic scenes.
Flanders, 1914. David, a young Belgian schoolteacher, stands before the firing squad, sentenced to death for desertion. Days earlier, he was teaching his fellow soldiers in the trenches to read and write. But when he befriended a sensitive young pupil, Marcus Verschoppen, disaster followed.
A small village behind the front, during World War I. While soldiers struggle to fight, life behind the front goes on. At the inn, where soldiers come to catch their breath, lives a blind girl. One day, she finds someone sitting on her bench: a black soldier, with the ‘scent of roasted nuts’.
Vereecken captures the harsh reality in poetic sentences. An extraordinarily strong novel ****
Summer 1914. Through the eyes of eleven-year-old Alice we see the increasing alarm among the grownups: war is said to be imminent. Alice’s naivety makes way for a brutal confrontation with reality, but ‘Everything Will Be Fine, Forever’ is first and foremost a celebration of life and hope.
Beautiful adaptation of Stravinsky’s 'The Soldier’s Tale'
‘Someone’s Sweetheart’ is a fairytale in verse form, about a Russian soldier who is given two weeks annual leave from the battlefield in World War I. In the penetrating, moving text, Moeyaert continually plays with foreboding omens. The sinister atmosphere is enhanced by Korneel Detailleur’s impressive grey illustrations.
'The Dog Eaters' describes the plight of ordinary citizens during WWI, as seen through the eyes of Victor, the epileptic 17-year-old son of a notary. With its mythical atmosphere and almost unbearable tension, this is an unforgettable novel for readers of all ages.
An extremely strong book, a wartime childhood that can be taken as a reference
Edward van de Vendel
Flanders, 1914. The war is approaching audibly. Young Nelle volunteers as a nurse in a hospital, seeing this war as a chance to become more than just a baker’s daughter, a mother and wife. Her boyfriend Simon doesn’t want to go to war, but he is pushed by his father, who is fascinated by heroism and the art of warfare, and he ends up in the trenches with his best friend Kamiel.
Adriaenssens brings the insanity of World War I to life: the battlefields pocked with craters, the villages and towns shot to smithereens, the harrowing conditions in the trenches and the absurd orders of authorities, who had not the faintest idea what they were doing. The powerful story is told with muted shades and concise text.
Unique in the stream of books published to mark the centenary of World War One
On 19 August 1914, in a matter of hours, the university city of Leuven transformed from the Belgian military headquarters into a city occupied by German soldiers. Soon after that, Leuven was reduced to ashes. Gerolf Van de Perre and Johanna Spaey portray these dramatic early days of World War I in powerful, poetic images and words.
Embedded in a fragmentary atmospheric sketch of life in the port of Antwerp during World War I, ‘Occupied City’ is first and foremost a settling of accounts with the bourgeois culture and politics of Ostaijen’s period. The Dadaist influence from his time in Berlin can be found in its inventive rhythmical typography, its use of the collage technique, and the radicalism of its unparalleled cynical evocation of wartime suffering.
A perfectly accomplished anthology of moving testimonies from literary and other sources.
In deeply personal letters, displaying an impressive knowledge of the subject, Piet Chielens and his brother Wim correspond about the war poems of John McCrae, Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon and many other soldiers who fought in Flanders Fields and found comfort in writing poetry.
Buelens has written a brilliant and accessible book about the hyperbole of the Great War.
In' Europe, oh Europe!' Buelens describes how Europe was shooting itself to pieces while desperately seeking a new identity. It is a book about the destructive and healing power of the word, a chunk of lively cultural history and a meditation on nationalism and international cooperation.
The alternation between zooming in to focus on the films and panning out to the world stage works well.
Matthijs de Ridder gives a sparkling account of an artist who was able to embody all the important themes of the 20th century. Using new sources, he casts a fresh glance over the life and work of Chaplin. At the same time, ‘The Age of Charlie Chaplin’ is a phenomenal cultural history of a turbulent period that defines our worldview to this very day.