The Assault

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For the 2012 French film based on the hijacking of Air France Flight 8969, see L'Assaut.
The Assault
Author Harry Mulisch
Original title De Aanslag
Country Netherlands
Language Dutch
Subject Second World War
Publication date

The Assault (original title in Dutch: De Aanslag) is a 1982 novel by Dutch author Harry Mulisch about the Second World War. It deals with the consequences for the lone survivor of a Nazi retaliation on an innocent family after a collaborator named Fake Ploeg is found killed outside their home.

The novel takes readers on the journey through the life of the main character, Anton Steenwijk. Throughout the book, Anton struggles to accept his traumatic experience from the past. In the beginning Anton's way of dealing with his tragic past is by suppressing all his memories of them, and that night. However just as he begins to forget, fate steps in, and challenges him to unearth what really happened all those years ago. Slowly, as he pieces together what happened that night, he begins to face and accept his past as a part of him. The theme of the novel is the development of the past into the present, and heading into the yet to be determined future as is shown in the prologue by a man walking backwards to push a boat forwards. Recurring themes and symbols include a symbol representing Anton piecing his life back together, rocks depict hatred and unhappiness, and a recurrent theme of darkness and light. Another is the motif of chance, which is used throughout the novel beginning with the dice in Anton's pocket and finally ending when Anton learns the true cause of the fate of his family. Anton's obsession with completion and consistency is why he has such a difficult time grasping the events of his childhood. What Anton initially saw as acts of chance slowly evolved over the course of the novel to become cause and effect relationships, leaving nothing to chance and Anton satisfied.

A subcutaneous underlining of the plot is random truths and irony of "what are the chances that...", an example being that Anton later meets at a funeral of his father in law's friend, the man who murdered Fake Ploeg. Fake Ploeg's murder led to the arrest and execution of Anton's parents, the death of his brother and the torching of his childhood home.

The novel ends with the discovery of truth, that Anton's family died instead of the family of refugees that lived hidden in the neighbour's house and of whom nobody knew.

Film adaption[edit]

The novel was adapted to film in 1986 by Fons Rademakers, who produced and directed the film. It stars Derek de Lint, Marc van Uchelen and Monique van de Ven. The film won an Oscar (Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film, 1986).