My Little War
Louis Paul Boon
Paul Vincent, Translator
(Dalkey Archive)The notes tell us that this novel was first published in 1947. It tells of World War II and its aftermath in Belgium: the draft, the bombings, the random murders, those who fought the Nazis, those --- the blackshirts --- who coöperated with them, those who were involved in the black market, those who went to Germany, those who came back, those who didn't ... and those who went to prison,
the guards had caught him red-handed and knocked his teeth out with a wrench, so he had to swallow his food unchewed, and it stuck in his stomach in a ball, which made him writhe in agony.
It is possible back then when Mijn kleine oorlog was first published that it could be considered a new form of writing, like Dos Passos' USA Trilogy ... with its odds and ends of clippings, short-short stories, quotes, and bits of thoughts. Here we find a couple of pages of text, then some notes at the end of the chapter (in italics), then another few pages, with more italic endings that often seem to have nothing to do with the preceding chapter.
For instance, there is yet another tooth tale: the story of Albertine Spaens "who had to have all her teeth pulled out because they'd all come loose thanks to malnutrition." Since she was too poor to buy false teeth, she "simply walked around with the eyes of a thirty-year-old and the mouth of an eighty-year-old." One of the closing sentences in the chapter devoted to Spaens: And the decline of public morals is increasing so alarmingly, an old whore wonders what the world is coming to: in my day....
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Perhaps it is just a matter of time. My Little War came out more than over sixty years ago; since then, there have been a plethora of writings on war and death and starvation and the holocaust and the very cravenness of all mankind. All these books have taken their toll, flooding our sensibilities ... desensitizing us to that which was new in post-WWII Europe. Or perhaps might be something so simple as the fact that Boon was not just not a fiction writer, but, as well, not even a poet:
A man who walks with a stick --- they say because he fell out of a moving car --- always crosses the street when he sees me coming, because he thinks I'm a poet too. And poets are all fools, he says, what's the difference between a poet and a whore.
"And I'm sad that he thinks that --- not the bit about poets being like whores, but that I might be a poet."--- Richard Saturday