The Assault

The Assault

by Harry Mulisch

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Overview

It is the winter of 1945, the last dark days of World War II in occupied Holland. A Nazi collaborator, infamous for his cruelty, is assassinated as he rides home on his bicycle. The Germans retaliate by burning down the home of an innocent family; only twelve-year-old Anton survives.

Based on actual events, The Assault traces the complex repercussions of this horrific incident on Anton's life. Determined to forget, he opts for a carefully normal existence: a prudent marriage, a successful career, and colorless passivity. But the past keeps breaking through, in relentless memories and in chance encounters with others who were involved in the assassination and its aftermath, until Anton finally learns what really happened that night in 1945—and why.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780394744209
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/12/1986
Pages: 192
Sales rank: 118,317
Product dimensions: 5.15(w) x 7.97(h) x 0.49(d)

About the Author

Born in 1927 to a Jewish mother whose family died in the concentration camps and an Austrian father who was jailed after the war for collaborating with the Nazis, HARRY MULISCH is one of Holland's most acclaimed writers. He is the author of more than thirty works of fiction, nonfiction, commentary, plays, and poetry, many of them having as their subject the Second World War. The Assault has been translated into more than two dozen languages and was made into an Academy Award–winning film in 1986. Mulisch died in 2010.

Read an Excerpt

PROLOGUE
 
Far, far back during the Second World War, a certain Anton Steenwijk lived with his parents and his brother on the outskirts of Haarlem. There four houses stood close together along a quay that bordered the water for about a hundred meters. After a gentle curve, the quay straightened out and became an ordinary street. Each house was surrounded by a garden and had a little balcony, bay windows, and a steep rood, giving it the air of a modest villa. The rooms on the top floor all had slanted wall. The houses were somewhat dilapidated and in need of paint, for their upkeep had already been neglected during the thirties. Harking back to lighter-hearted days, each bore a brave sign with its name: Hideaway, Carefree, Home at Last, Bide-a-Wee.
 
Anton lived in the second house from the left, the one with the thatched roof. If it had not already been called Carefree when the family rented it shortly before the War, his father would have preferred to name it something like Eleuthera, written in Greek letters. Even before the catastrophe occurred, Anton used to think that Carefree meant a place where cares entered freely, not a place free from cares; just as someone could think priceless meant without cost, rather than beyond price.
 
The Beumers, an ailing retired attorney and his wife, lived in Hideaway. Anton sometimes dropped in on them for a cup of tea and cake, in the days when there were still such things as tea and cake—that is to say, long before the beginning of this story, which is the story of an incident. Sometimes Mr. Beumer read him a chapter from The Three Musketeers.
 
Mr. Korteweg was the neighbor in Home at Last, on the other side of Anton’s house. Formerly a second mate in the merchant marine, he was out of work now because of the War. After the death of his wife, his daughter Karin, a nurse, had moved back home. Anton sometimes dropped in here also, through an opening in the backyard hedge. Karin was always friendly, but her father paid no attention to him.
 
There wasn’t much socializing on that quay. The most aloof neighbors of all were the Aartses, who had lived in Bide-a-Wee since the beginning of the War. It was said that he worked for an insurance company, though no one was really sure.
 
Apparently these four houses had been intended as the beginning of a new development, but nothing more came of it. They were surrounded by fallow fields overgrown with weeks and bushes, and even some tall trees. It was on these undeveloped lots that Anton spent most of his time, playing with other children from a neighborhood further away. Occasionally in the late twilight when his mother forgot to call him in, a fragrant still ness would rise and fill him with expectations—of what, he didn’t know. Something to do with later, when he’d grown up—things that would happen then. Something to do with the motionless earth, the leaves, two sparrows that suddenly twittered and scratched about. Life someday would be like those evenings when he had been forgotten, mysterious and endless.
 
The cobblestones on the road in front of the house were laid in a herringbone pattern. The street did not have a sidewalk. It petered out into a grassy bank that sloped gently down to the towpath, where it was pleasant to lie on one’s back. The wide canal’s uneven, winding bank showed that it had been a river at one time. Across the water stood a few farmhands’ cottages and small farms to the right, where the bank curved, was a windmill that never turned. Behind the farms, the meadows stretched out to the horizon. Still further lay Amsterdam. Before the War, his father had told him, one could see the glow of city lights reflected against the clouds. Anton had been there a few times, to the zoo and the Rijksmuseum, and to his uncle’s to spend the night.
 
Lying on the grassy bank and staring into the distance, he sometimes had to pull in his legs because a man who seemed to step out of another century came walking along the trampled towpath. The man had one end of a pole several yards long attached to his waist, while the other end was fastened to the prow of a barge. Walking with heavy steps, he pushed against the pole and thus moved the boat through the water. Usually a woman wearing an apron, her hair in a knot, stood at the wheel, and a child played on deck.
 
At other times the man remained on deck and walked forward along the side of the barge, dragging the ole behind him through the water. When he reached the bow, he planted the stick sideways in the bottom of the canal, grasped it firmly, and walked backwards, so that he pushed the boat forward beneath his feet. The specially pleased Anton: a man walking backwards to push something forward, while staying in the same place himself. There was something very strange about it, but it was his secret that he didn’t mention to anyone. Not till later, when he described it to his children, did he realize what primitive times he had witnessed. Only in movies about Africa and Asia could one still see such things.
 
Several times a day sailing barges, heavily laden ships with dark-brown sails, appeared silently around the first bend and, driven solemnly onward by the invisible wind, disappeared around the next.
 
The motorboats were different. Pitching, their prows would tear the water into a V shape that spread until it reached both sides of the canal. There the water would suddenly begin to lap up and down, even though the boat was already far away. Then the waves bounced back and formed an inverted V, which interfered with the original V, reached the opposite shore transformed, and bounced back again—until all across the water a complicated braiding of ripples developed which went on changing for several minutes, then finally smoothed out.
 
Each time, Anton tried to figure out exactly how this happened, but each time the pattern became so complex that he could no longer follow it.

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The Assault 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 10 reviews.
Sweet_Bee on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A stunning novelization that explores the themes of guilt and innocence using a single devastating incident in the life of a Dutch child who survives the Nazi occupation of Holland. He reaches adulthood not fully understanding all that went wrong, the domino effect of one act of violence which cost him his family and the life they shared. Through a series of encounters with those in his past we learn the complex truth about this one moment in time. It reminds one that it is all too easy to assign blame without knowing all the facts. Once all the layers of the onion are peeled away every act of courage revealed, as well as the unintended consequences of making honorable choices.
Othemts on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
On a quiet street in Haarlem a Dutch Nazi collaborator is assassination by the Resistance. The Germans retaliate by destroying the house in front of which the body was found and executing all of the inhabitants. The sole survivor is 12-year old Anton. Anton manages to lead a seemingly normal life albeit one directed by apathy. The novel follows Anton's life through various episodes in which he forced to recall that night and learn scraps of the truth behind why his family was killed. Mulisch writes a thought-provoking novel about the moral gray areas in wartime but not without some hope and humor.Favorite Passages:Only later did Anton realize that almost nobody voted rationally, but simply out of self-interest, or because he felt an affinity for the members of a certain party, or because the leading candidate inspired confidence. It was phsycobiological, in a way. In a subsequent election he voted somewhat more conservatively, for a newly founded party that claimed that the difference between right and left was obsolete. Still, national politics meant little to him: about as much as paper airplanes would mean to the survivor of a plane crash.
jwhenderson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Assault by Harry Mulisch is one of the best novels I have read, in fact it is possibly one of the finest examples of European postwar fiction. Mulisch focuses on the persistence of memory in his protagonist, Anton Steenwijk. It is his memory of the massacre of his family near the end of World War II that permeates and shapes the rest of his life in ways that he has difficulty comprehending. Mulisch, using a taut and subtle style, explores questions of guilt and innocence, heroism and cowardice in this spellbinding and moving novel.
CR-Buell More than 1 year ago
In postwar literature the horrors of Naziism tend to be painted in broad strokes. Writers like Gunter Grass and Heinrich Boll have created masterpieces in which they explore the larger implications and impact of National Socialism. In The Assault Harry Mulisch narrows it all down to a finer point; the impact of one event on the life of one man. In occupied Holland, just weeks before liberation, a Nazi collaborator is shot in front of 12 y/o Anton Steenwijk's house. The events that quickly follow will shape the rest of Anton's life. In this short novel we follow Anton through all the rage, grief, and confusion he feels as he tries to move on. As Anton, and we, slowly learn more about that night we find our initial assumptions being challenged. And through Anton Mulisch gives us a clear picture of all the rage, grief, and confusion that was WWII. The Assault is one of the finest pieces of postwar literature you'll ever read.
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bethclem More than 1 year ago
The structure is brilliant, and the story packs the punch of great moral fiction. The eponymous assault, a shocking event that changes the narrator's life, is first seen by him as a child, but in no way understood except as it affects him personally. Then scene by scene as he grows up, Mulisch adds to his understanding of why what happened happened and what it means, until by the end the motives of all the actors in the event are understandable, and even compel forgiveness. A thrilling piece of craft, and art.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Each of Mulisch's novels deals in one way or another with the myriad ways in which things that happened in the past continue to effect our lives, and how they help to mold us into the people we are. In this novel he discusses how the terrible things that occured in WWII can leave one mentally and emotionally scarred, and I think it grants each of us an insight into human nature, and the ways in which we are able to cope with horrific experiences. Mulisch writes from a uniquely Dutch perspective, but in most cases his stories could have happened in any of the countries occupied by the Germans in WWII.