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4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars
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on 13 March 2004
Anyone who has ever had to face something in their life that has shaped the way in which their life has progressed will find the pyschology of this book fascinating. It deals with good and evil, love and hate, meaning and misunderstanding and the relentess connectedness of events that influences us all. Anton, the main character at first buries, but then realises that he is haunted by the tragic events that befall his family. Even though it takes his whole life to discover the truth of what had happened to them, this is nothing more than a series of coincidences. The effect of the defining events at the beginning of the book on the lives of everyone involved and the motives behind their individual judgements leaves you questioning the certainity of your own moral code and the nature of truth.
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In a Haarlem street the Dutch Resistance kills an active collaborator. In retaliation the Germans have destroyed a house in that street in which live ten-year-oldAnton Steenwijk with his parents and elder brother. Anton survives, but his parents and brother are killed. As Anton grows up, he wants to suppress all memories of that time, and it is not a coincidence that he chooses to become an anaesthetist. But of course the trauma is buried within him, and affects his mental life in many ways, some that are inexplicable to him. But the members of the resistance who had carried out the assassination are haunted also, by their knowledge that their deed had led to uninvolved people being shot. All these states of mind are explored in this story, as much that lay concealed emerges over the 36 years after the event. The reader is engaged as taut knots are loosened and unwound.
During all this time the world moves on and new political issues arise - Vietnam; the anti-nuclear movement. Do they leave the old issues behind or are they connected with them?
This short book's limpid prose is very precise, profound and rich in unobtrusive symbolism. It is all very compelling
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on 12 November 2001
At almost the end of the war a tyrannical local Dutch police chief is assassinated outside the house of an innocent family. The events which follow are seen through the eyes of a young boy. Over the subsequent years the mystery of why it all happened are revealed.
The plot is fascinating and the characters are all vividly written. The description of the locality conjures up the way the landscape of Holland looks and feels, the cold winter weather the broad canals. Thoroughly interesting and enjoyable.
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VINE VOICEon 31 May 2003
When my work took me to Holland for a few months, I asked people there what Dutch novels they would recommend. They all said "The Assault". It would certainly be an exageration to say that Holland has no literature, but not much of an exageration. It is renowned for its great painters and architects, not its writers. But in "The Assault" at least, they have produced an indisputable masterpiece. If you read just one Dutch novel, this has to be it.
An exquisitely poignant evocation of life in German-occupied Holland in World War II, it invites the reader to make moral judgements and then systematically undermines those judgements. It is a restrained, undemonstrative, beautifully written work that unfolds gradually and in a most unexpected way. Highly recommended.
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on 19 February 2016
Firstly, even though this is a work of fiction, I felt when I'd finished it that I'd learnt a great deal from it. I lived for years in both the Netherlands and Germany when I was younger and I've read dozens of books about WW2 and about the history of the Netherlands in later life, but I still didn't have much idea what it was like to live in the Netherlands during the War... until I read this book. I don't know if it's a great work of literature, but I must repeat that I found it extremely worthwhile to read it. Finally, you should be aware that the events it describes are often extremely harrowing. Many events that happened to the author's own family were extremely harrowing in real life, so perhaps that is why he was able to write such a convincing, sad and instructive story.
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on 14 September 2014
There is something immensely appealing about small books. In an age when bigger is better, and publishers produce books of 400 pages with enormous font and large paragraph spacing there is something reassuring about novels well short of 200 pages. Yes, big things can be said in small packages. And so it is with this.

Originally published in Dutch, the language of the author, this is a powerful piece of fiction writing. Anton is a twelve year old boy, living with his parents and older brother in a town in occupied Holland during WWII. It is 1945, the Nazis are beginning to realise that the tide is turning against them and their retributions whenever a Nazi or collaborator is killed are particularly vicious and somewhat random. So it is in Anton's small town one night when a collaborator is shot by an unknown. The result of this violence is that Anton, in turn, finds the violence turned upon him and his family and he is left an orphan. His life unfolds over the course of the book in a series of episodes between 1945 and 1982 where he grows from boy to man,going through the various stages of a life. At each episode he is confronted in some way by the tragedy of 1945, which was never really explained to him then or since in any way that enabled him to process or make sense of what had happened. Over the course of his life, during these episodes, he gradually comes to understand what really happened that day, and also finds the peace that has eluded him for all of his life. The world as seen through a child's eyes is, as we know, totally different from the same view that an adult may see. And that is what this book is about - the slow peeling away and probing of the secrets and reasons that people do things in a small community, not only to protect themselves, but also to protect those around them. And the healing that occurs as a result to those most damaged.
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on 17 January 2016
Overall this is an excellent book albeit one with significant flaws. The first section is easily the best as a gripping and immediate account of a nightmarish night in 1945. The remaining 4 sections take place over 35 years as Anton Steenwijk uncovers the truth of what happened on that night. This is where the problems occur as these sections rely far too much on improbable coincidences to be truly believable. In a thriller this may be forgivable but in a book of this sort it jars a great deal. Despite it's faults though this is a thought-provoking book and a highly recommended read.
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on 16 April 2014
A post war classic which tackles the knotty issues of how to cope in the aftermath of atrocities, timely in its examination of whether to draw a line under the past in the light of what the present gradually reveals about all those involved and their own complex human motives.
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on 18 December 2014
A blend of a strong underlying storyline, some vividly atmospheric sections, an oddly unsympathetic protagonist and some rather weak and inconsequential interludes. Enough to interest me in going to the author's later works, without leaving me able to recommend this one particularly.
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on 10 February 2011
It is 1945, Anton is 12 years old and seeing out the second world war in provincial Holland.The slaughter of a feared collaborator near their home brings horror to his careful family.
This is my first encounter with the work of Harry Mulisch it will not be my last.The novel is written in a no nonsense style, clear and vivid descriptions of characters and fine plotting keep the story moving towards it's ending, which satisfies by answering the question that appears early in the text,and forms the moral dilemna in this fine literary novel
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