Stay Tuned For The Assault


the assaultFor at least two years now, I have been meaning to share a paper I wrote in graduate school in the Rio Grande Valley about The Assault (De aanslag), a novel by my favorite Dutch author, Harry Mulisch.

It’s titled “History and Time in Harry Mulisch’s The Assault”. In it, I discuss the different aspects of Mulisch’s use of time and history, looking at structure, narration and Mulisch’s ideas about time, history and fiction.

I promised in several posts in my series about the Netherlands in World War Two that I would share this. The problem was that I only have the text printed out; I lost the diskette I wrote it on a long time ago. So I have to retype it, which is tedious work. But since I want to give it to you piecemeal, I think I can do it.

This is a paper written for a graduate class about historical novels. It’s not for everyone, but I feel that it will help make this novel–one of Mulisch’s best–more accessible to English-language readers.

If you’re not familiar with the situation in the Netherlands during World War Two, I recommend that you start with reading my series of posts about it. The series begins here.

Unless mentioned otherwise, the  quotes are taken from The Assault by Harry Mulisch, translated by Claire Nicolas White (New York: Random House, 1985). The translation of other Dutch quotes are mine.

I can’t figure out how to get hover notes in the text with Markdown, so numbers between parentheses: (20) refer to footnotes at the bottom of each post. Note the difference between these references and the references to pages in the novel itself: (p. 20).

If you’re interested in reading the book, you could buy it now and read it while following these posts, but I have to warn you: there are quite a few translation oddities. I correct some of the translation slip-ups as they come up in quotes, but I won’t make a complete list of them, with the correct translations, until the end. If you read the book without any corrections, there are several things that at least won’t make sense, and at worst will cause you to miss vital connections and references.

Click here for part 1.

4 responses to “Stay Tuned For The Assault

  1. Michiel Horn

    De aanslag is not just one of Mulisch’s best novels, it is his best. I’ve read a number of his works, and most suffer, in my opinion anyway, from muddy thinking and a vague spirituality that sometimes descends into mumbo-jumbo. That’s certainly the case with the very ambitious De ontdekking van de hemel, translated as The Discovery of Heaven.

    By way of contrast, De aanslag is a taut, no-nonsense work that grips the reader from beginning to end. I’m looking forward to reading your comments.

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    • I agree, about The Assault, anyway. But Mulisch uses so many images in the novel that are–or were in 1982–part of the Dutch collective memory and culture, that it’s not necessarily a very accessible book to outsiders. Add to that some very odd translation mistakes and it just doesn’t get the appreciation it deserves within the English language. I hope to add my humble contributions to remedy this.

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  2. Patricia Lothrop

    For quite a few years I’ve taught De aanslag to very bright tenth-grade students, in an Honors World Literature course (in an elite prep school). Over those years I’ve done a lot of research, and in re-reading the novel connected many of the symbols and themes–and only now have discovered your blog (that would have saved me so much work, had it appeared in 2002!). I think the novel is wonderful: it works for my high-school students, but I myself have a deeper appreciation for Mulisch’s mastery every time I read it. Your corrections to the translation are VERY helpful, too. Thank you.

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