Last updated on 29/01/2013
Belgian literary treasures...
Country famous for its chocolate, fries, beer and comic books, Belgium is often reduced to those four elements but it has so much more to offer. Our famous monuments, our well-loved chocolate and beers, but there's other treasures to be found if you look more closely. Our little nation has been providing us, for the last decades, with some literary pearls written by men and woman, some more famous than others.
Hendrik Conscience (1812-1883), author of the famous "Lion de Flandres" published in 1838. This historic novel tells the story of the Battle of the Golden Spurs. Hendrik's objective was to impose Flanders as the northern Venice, strategic position that Philippe Le Bel has always coveted.
Another famous Belgian novel is « Les Aventures glorieuses d'Ulenspiegel et de Lamme Goedzak au pays des Flandres et ailleurs » written by de Charles de Coster (1827-1879). This insight into history tells the story of "Till l'espiègle", fictional and malicious character who stood up to the oppressive regime instated by Philippe II and becomes the defender of Freedom.
In a different style, Michel de Ghelderode (1898-1962) is mostly known for creating a fantastic and dark universe, but very macabre, grotesque and cruel like the novel « Grand Macabre ».
Hugo Claus (1929-2008) proposes, yet, another style. His novels are more critical of traditionalism and provincialism of the Flemish society, « Le Chagrin des Belges » is the perfect example of this genre. From historic to fantastic novels, our country has also provided writers in the "whodunit" genre.
In the detective novels, we'll remember Georges Simenon (1903-1989), great Belgian who wrote among other things the adventures of Commissioner Maigret and Stanislas-André Steeman (1908-1970), writer of « L'assassin habite au 21 ». Both of these writers will have prolific careers with more than 50 novels and numerous cinema and television adaptations.
Although Belgian authors have been often rewarded, the Nobel Price in Literature has only ever been awarded to a Belgian once. The price was awarded in 1911 to Maurice Maeterlinck(1862-1949). Belgian French-speaking poet, Maurice is one our most precious national treasures.
The best-known Belgian author abroad, Amélie Nothomb (1967) has written 18 novels that have been translated in 37 languages. Amélie has a lot of fans; unfortunately her success has also attracted detractors who accuse her of using her talent as sale argument and who call her eccentric. Her fame is ever-growing, she publishes on average a novel a year, but she can write up to 4 during that time.
Nicolas Ancion (1971), during the « Foire du Livre », locked himself in for 24 hours, from the 3rd to the 4th March 2010 to write a detective story live. The novel takes place during the troublesome time of Carrefour shops and is called "Une très petite surface" (A very small surface area).
Another woman in this very masculine world, Marguerite Yourcenar (1903-1987) who rose to fame with "L'oeuvre au noir". Zénon Ligre, man from the Renaissance, character in the book, is persecuted by the church for his spirit and his ideas. He finds refuge in Bruges under an alias; sadly he is caught by the Inquisition who throws him in prison where he will hang himself. The novel's message is clearly a humanism one like in most of her books; she criticizes man's situation and his condition in society.
Another criticizing author is Thomas Gunzig (1970) who writes fictional stories marked with his dark and cruel sense of humour, reflection of the unfair and cruel world. The Belgians have always been rewarded for their creations, but it's not until 1937, that one of ours gets the Goncourt Award for the first time. < b>Charles Plisnier (1896-1952), author of « Faux Passeport » is the first Belgian to get the award, but not the last.
The last awarded is François Weyergans (1941) who gets in 2005. His novel « Trois jours chez ma mère » is the story of a desperate man who, on his fiftieth birthday, cancels all his appointments to try and figure out what he wants in life. He would like to change his life, his job, his wife, of city and even of era! A country's history, a society's history is mingled between the pages of these books. Indirectly, these books are writing our story, they are becoming the heritage of a nation.
Life can be cruel or to simple sometimes or even boring and suffocating and you can't run or hide. So why not create your world, write your story, not the actual one but the one you would have liked to have. And if writing is not your forte, you might find your happiness in someone else's pages. Every new generation brings a new generation of writers, some more talented than others. The ink hasn't finished flowing! Lara Ronayne Casimiro
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