Post Series on De Aanslag: History and Time in The Assault by Harry Mulisch

This entry is part 1 of 11 in the series History and Time in The Assault by Harry Mulisch

De aanslag / The Assault by Harry Mulisch is a historical novel par excellence. It’s historical fiction, it’s meta fiction about history and writing about history, and Mulisch has incorporated historical events and people so realistically that some Belgian television people came looking for the exact location of the assault.

history and time in the assault by harry mulisch, history and time in Harry Mulisch's the Assault, Harry Mulisch, Harry Mulisch De Aanslag, Harry Mulisch's The Assault, The Assault by Harry Mulisch, De Aanslag door Harry Mulisch, Dutch novels, Dutch authors, historical novels, World War Two novels, WWII novels, the German occupation of the Netherlands, the Netherlands in WWII, the Netherlands in World War Two, De bezetting, de hongerwinter, the DUtch hunger winter, the hunger winter, resistance fighters, the Dutch resistance, the Cold War, de koude oorlog,(05-02-2014, updated 07-25-2018)  The following posts are a breakdown of a paper I wrote in graduate school  for a class about historical novels on The Assault (De aanslag), a novel by my favorite Dutch author, Harry Mulisch.  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.

The series is titled “History and Time in The Assault by Harry Mulisch“. It discusses Mulisch’s different uses of time and history in De aanslag, while examining structure, narration and Mulisch’s ideas about time, history and fiction.

If you’re not familiar with the situation in the Netherlands in WWII, I recommend that you start with reading my series of posts about it, which 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 couldn’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 Assault by Harry Mulisch, 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. [That was in 2014. I still haven’t made the list of corrections. I had completely forgotten. Maybe I’ll do it soon. But by now I know better than to promise firmly — and I’m writing my own book now.]

Click here for part 1 on this series about De aanslag.

This post was first published on the blog Resident Alien: Being Dutch in America, under the title: “Stay Tuned For The Assault”.

This post is the introduction (and Part 1) to the series.

Series NavigationThe Time Capsule: An Introduction to the Concept of History in The Assault >>

4 thoughts on “Post Series on De Aanslag: History and Time in The Assault by Harry Mulisch

  1. 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.

    1. 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.

  2. 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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