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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

De tranen der acacia's

Willem Frederik Hermans

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Title: De tranen der acacia's
Author: Willem Frederik Hermans
Genre: Novel
Written: 1949
Length: 519 pages
Original in: Dutch
Availability: Die Tränen der Akazien - Deutschland
  • De tranen der acacia's has not yet been translated into English

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Our Assessment:

B+ : dark depiction of the Netherlands and Belgium during and after World War II

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 27/4/2005 Wolfgang Schneider
Neue Zürcher Zeitung . 3/5/2005 Dorothear Dieckmann

  From the Reviews:
  • "Die Rätselhaftigkeit der Welt ist ein faszinierendes Thema, aber als Leser weiß man gern, woran man ist. Statt dessen sieht man sich im ersten Drittel des Romans selbst in den desorientierten Status einer Hermans-Figur versetzt und vielen Ungewißheiten ausgeliefert. Es dauert lange, bis das Buch in Fahrt kommt und der Leser in den Bann der beklemmenden Welt gezogen wird." - Wolfgang Schneider, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       De tranen der acacia's ('The acacia's tears') is Hermans' first long novel, written between 1946 and 1948. There's much of the mystery, gloom, and moral ambiguity found in his later works -- hardly surprising, as the material here most obviously lends itself to a dark view of the world.
       The novel centres around Arthur Muttah, and begins in the last years of the German occupation of the Netherlands. Arthur is twenty, and barely getting by in a world offering little stability or certainty. He lives with his older half-sister, Carola, and his detested grand-mother (who is in great demand and apparently makes decent money fortune-telling).
       The novel actually begins with Oskar Ossegal, a friend of his on a subversive mission who gets nabbed by the Germans; while most of the novel follows Arthur's life, there's also quite a bit about Oskar's (mis)adventures and incarceration. It seems unclear whether Oskar is a true resistance fighter, or in fact a collaborator; similarly, it's unclear whether Carola betrayed him. Even Ernst, the German Carola hooks up with, is an ambiguous figure: he claims to be a deserter but could just as well be using this situation to gather information.
       It's a world without trust, and with little personal loyalty. When Oskar is released from prison he comes home to find his wife, Andrea, with Arthur. But, while Oskar is a fairly hapless soul, it's Arthur who is truly lost in this environment.
       Hermans does a nice job of describing this Nether-lands under the German occupation (including, particularly effectively, Oskar's jail-time), and the human toll that results from trying both to get by and to resist. Arthur isn't so much naïve, but almost everything -- especially any sort of comprehensive comprehension -- is beyond him. He finds himself in a world where little makes sense. Hermans also very effectively uses Arthur's difficult relationships -- with his devilish grand-mother, his sister, and others -- in creating an atmospheric narrative.
       The novel bridges wartime and the post-war period, but in those first years after the defeat of the Germans any new, hopeful world still seems almost impossibly distant. (When Arthur gets a position as a translator for the Americans in Germany there's no reason to believe the occupation there won't last fifty or more years -- if he wants, it could probably be a lifetime position.)
       The scenes are vivid throughout, and often fascinating pictures of, for example, newly liberated Holland -- with the tension raised as Arthur commits a serious crime at that time. He leaves the country and goes to his father (his horrible, cursed (and afflicted) father, as his grandmother has constantly drilled into him) in Brussels -- finding there a very different yet ultimately no more straightforward family-life
       Among Arthur's desperate efforts to find some meaning (beyond the attempts at womanizing) he even wants to volunteer to fight for the Americans in Japan. His father offers him a new identity, too, as Joseph Mencken (who, along with his entire family, was killed by the Nazis) -- but, of course, that's not enough for him to escape from himself either.
       Herman's story is often compelling -- both Oskar's and Arthur's -- but much remains unknown. Part of the point is how much is unknowable, even about those close to us, but it can be frustrating on occasion here. Arthur's meanderings do lead to places, but perhaps not quite enough for such a long tome. De tranen der acacia's is more than a mere warm-up for the later works -- and the writing is already very strong -- but, compared to the novels that followed, is still just a bit immature.

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De tranen der acacia's: Reviews: Willem Frederik Hermans: Other books by Willem Frederik Hermans under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Dutch literature

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About the Author:

       Willem Frederik Hermans (1921-1995) was a leading Dutch author.

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