The Sorrow of Belgium

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The Sorrow of Belgium
Author Hugo Claus
Original title Het Verdriet van België
Translator Arnold J. Pomerans
Country Belgium
Language Dutch
Publication date
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
ISBN 978-0-14-018801-1

The Sorrow of Belgium (Dutch: Het verdriet van België) is a novel by the Belgian author Hugo Claus published in 1983. Arguably Claus' best-known work, the novel was translated into English by Arnold J. Pomerans in 1994.[1] It was also made into a mini-series the same year.[2]

The novel is classified as bildungsroman and comprises two parts:

  • "The Sorrow" (Dutch: Het verdriet); 27 numbered chapters with titles
  • "of Belgium" (Dutch: van België); text not divided in chapters.

It tells the story of the childhood and youth of Louis Seynaeve (Claus's alter ego) in the Flemish village of Walle (a part of Kortrijk) from 1939 to 1947, coinciding with the period Second World War, the German occupation of Belgium, and its aftermath.[3]


Belgium, 1939. Louis Seynaeve, who becomes eleven in April, goes to a boarding school led by nuns in Haarbeke, a fictitious town close to Kortrijk. Louis has a lot of fantasies. He and his friends call themselves the Four Apostles and they possess seven forbidden books. His father comes to tell him that his mother fell down the stairs, which actually means that she is pregnant. Several months later the baby is stillborn.

His family members are Flemish nationalists. Louis' father buys a printing press in Germany and a Hitler Youth doll. During the German occupation of Belgium in the Second World War his family sympathises with the Germans. Louis attends meetings of the Hitler Youth in Mecklenburg.

Louis discovers more "forbidden books" and becomes interested in Entartete Kunst. Gradually he becomes aware of the narrow-mindedness of his family and his education. He ends up being a writer. He's the author of "The Sorrow", the first part of the novel.

Main characters[edit]

Hugo Claus, pictured in 1984
  • Louis Seynaeve is the protagonist, a Belgian boy who grows up during the Second World War.
  • Staff Seynaeve is Louis' father, a printer and a Flemish nationalist with pro-Nazi sympathies.
  • Mrs Clarence Seynaeve-Bossuyt is Louis' mother. She will work for a German company during the war.
  • Gerard Vlieghe is Louis' best friend at the boarding school. He will join NSJV, a Belgian movement related to the Hitlerjugend.
  • Rebekka Cosijns is a girlfriend of Louis. His parents forbid him to play with her because she's a gipsy.
  • Evariste de Launey is a Jesuit and a teacher of Louis. He will work for the Belgian resistance.
  • Byttebier is a classmate, known as the "Apostle Barnabas".
  • Dondeyne is a classmate, known as "Apostle Matthias". His younger brother is called René.


Wim Hazeu in Hervormd Nederland: "After Claus probably no one in our Sprachraum will be able to write such a big and in many views great book about Belgium in wartime. He's the only one who could handle such a subject and he did it."[3]

Suzanne Ruta in The New York Times Book Review: "Mr. Claus' wonderful novel is a chronicle of war in a small corner of one small country and a painstaking portrait of the artist as an obnoxious young man.[4]

See also[edit]


External links[edit]