So today is the Belgian national holiday. No big deal, really – but, I mean, like, for real. Belgians in general don’t really have that much of a “national feeling”. However, there’s three aspects where you’ll find people agree on being “Belgian”: soccer (Yay Red Devils!), food (those fries were BELGIAN first, thank you very much!) and literature. So on this fine day? Here’s some Belgian books you should read!
First things first: Belgium has three main languages, so there’s always a bit of discussion as to what exactly makes a piece of literature “Belgian”. For the sake of this post, I’m putting out there that “Belgian literature” is any work written by an author that either has the Belgian identity OR was living indefinitely in Belgium when writing the book. Does that make any sense?
Also, for the sake of my readers, I figured I would keep this post to just books that have been translated to English. Little use in me telling you to read something, if you don’t understand the language you can read it in 🙂 Any ways, here’s some of the Belgian books that you probably should read!
Lastly: there are some affiliate links in here, those are marked with an *!
1. The Sorrow of Belgium*, Hugo Claus
I’m starting with this book for a reason. Very few books in this post will be particularly happy. I’m still not entirely sure whether this is just us as a country. Maybe it’s just a typical thing for high literature in general. Either way – don’t read this book if you want a happy read. If you’re looking for something thought-inducing, though? This is your book!
Goodreads describes The Sorrow of Belgium as follows. “A classic novel in the tradition of The Tin Drum, The Sorrow of Belgium is a searing, scathingly funny portrait of a wartime Belgium and one boy’s coming of age-emotionally, sexually, and politically. Epic in scope, by turns hilarious and elegiac, The Sorrow of Belgium is the masterwork of one of the world’s greatest contemporary authors.”
I originally read this one for my Bachelor’s Degree in Dutch literature. Quite frankly? I didn’t think I would like it as much as I did. Before, I’d only read Claus’ “Rumours” and “Incomplete past“. Those not only do not have an English translation, they’re also way more depressing than this one is.
2. Chapel Road*, Louis Paul Boon
If you thought the last book wasn’t too happpy, this one is at least ten times worse.
“According to the author, Chapel Road is the book about the childhood of Ondine [. . .] about her brother Valeer-Traleer with his monstrous head wobbling through life this way and that. But the book is about a lot more than that. It is also the story of Louis Paul Boon, an author working on a novel entitled Chapel Road, surrounded by his colorful group of friends. His readers and companions include the painter Tippetotje, who habitually works a naked woman into her paintings, and Johan Janssens, the journalist and poet who is fired from the paper for refusing to agree with the Capitalists, the Socialists or the Ultra-Marxists. Beyond that, Chapel Road includes a retelling of the myth of Reynard the fox and Isengrinus the wolf, a tale that underscores the greed, stupidity, hypocrisy, pride and lust motivating the other characters of the book. Chapel Road is a pool, a sea, a chaos: it is the book of all that can be heard and seen in Chapel Road, from the year 1800-and-something until today.”
So, yeah. Belgian authors can be a little crazy sometimes? If I had to compare this book to any other work I’ve ever read? The closes thing would probably be something like James Joyce in feeling. What I mean by that is: you have several layers of a story running together. You have a sort of interconnectivity that is both amazing and horrible. And the author put himself into the book – maybe some of the best scenes in the entire work!
3. Tintin*, Hergé
Basically, this series tells the story of a young reporter, Tintin, who travels the world. Somehow, of course, he keeps running into all sorts of crazy plots, crimes, a captain that loves to curse in a very original way, to detectives who are both useless and identical. Oh, and then there’s the professor (Tournesol or Sunflower) and Bobby, the cutest dog to ever cute.Belgium in general has a pretty amazing comics-culture, so I can fully advise you to also check out Spike and Suzy, the adventures of two pre-teens, as well as Lucky Luke, which is about a cowboy 🙂
4. Inspector Maigret*, Georges Simenon
We really do have all sorts of writers, here in Belgium. Georges Simenon, however, might just be one of the most translated ones of them.
This is basically you’re average detective story – but where Poirot is Belgian, written by a Brit, Maigret is 100% Belgian. If you like detectives, and you’re looking to expand your repertoire, why not give this one a go?
And there you have it, that’s some pretty amazing Belgian books for you to read! Now of course, I’ve mentioned some pretty amazing Belgian books before – Those that Stayed Behind, by Lydia Verbeeck, springs to mind. However, as I said before: the main problem with Belgian literature, is that often it’s only published in the local languages. So if you know of any books originally written by a Belgian? Or maybe some characters that stem from the Belgian sole? Be sure to let me know below!