Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Journey Through the Night by Anne de Vries


I once spent ten days as a volunteer aboard the Doulos towards the end of her career. It was staffed by young volunteers from countries all over the world, and so I got to meet quite a number of Dutchies. I had one question for all of them, so yes—if you're from the Netherlands, and if you were on that ship in September 2008, you probably remember the gleam that came into my eyes as I asked, “Have you ever read a book called Reis Door de Nacht?”
It was interesting as a sort of informal survey. I found that perhaps four out of five of the people I asked had read it, and the one of them that hadn't read it had grown up hearing about it. They were all a little surprised to find that anyone in the English-speaking world had heard about it, much less remembered it well enough to discuss it with them.
I'm glad it's so well-known in its native country, however. The Nazi occupation of the Netherlands may be over, but its spirit has conquered that country—it is now one of the most dangerous places in the world in which to be aged or unborn. However once it had a robust tradition of Reformed Christianity (see the previous post for a great snapshot of Dutch heroism) and that heroism and faith resurfaced briefly for the very last time during the Nazi occupation in World War II. After that dreadful time (ask a Dutch grandfather what tulip bulb tastes like) the writer Anne De Vries was commissioned to write a novel that would commemorate the spirit of resistance for future generations. This was the result.
In 1940, it took just five days for the Nazis to occupy Holland. For the De Boer family, life will never be the same again. At first the De Boers propose to live quietly under the occupying forces, waiting for the tide of war to turn, but they soon find that neutrality is impossible. Loyalty to their countrymen and the faith that calls on them to resist tyranny soon draws them into Resistance work—hiding pamphlets one month, forwarding black-market food to the family that hides Jews the next.
Slowly, the De Boers find themselves drawn deeper and deeper into Resistance work—work that brings danger, excitement, and tragedy in plenty.
De Vries packs a lot into this book. From other stories I've read and heard of the occupation, he passes lightly over some of the grimmer realities; for example, that last desperate winter, when people began to starve and city folks wandered the countryside begging for food. Otherwise the story provides a fascinating glimpse at the spirit of those five long years: both the bravery of the Resistance and the treachery of collaborators. Like many of those associated with the fight for freedom, the De Boer family find their Christian faith a source, not just of inspiration, but of compulsion to fight.
There's even an episode in the story where John De Boer, our young hero, and his father briefly meet an old man and his two daughters—probably intended to be a homage to the ten Boom family. Probably there are other homages scattered throughout the book, but I don't know enough about the times to recognise them.
Journey Through the Night isn't just a patriotic celebration of Dutch heroism, however. Nor is it just a thrilling adventure story. Anne de Vries, a sincere Christian himself, recognised that it was the Netherlands' Christian heritage that made the Dutch heroic. The book is at least partly a handbook for young men on Christianity in times of war. Sometimes, as a Christian man, you have to resist tyranny--in time of war, with deadly force. When your father is snatched away for participating in Resistance work, you step into his shoes. When your little brother is old enough, you pass him a machine-gun. Grow up. Take responsibility, and take back your country.
One interesting snippet of the book is about how the De Boer's community deals with a collaborator, who has been hunting Jews for the Gestapo. I liked how the community leaders deal with the problem by gathering secretly to discuss, vote, and pass sentence of death on the man—resistance by means of local authorities is an intensely Reformed mode of resistance against tyranny, harking back to the Netherlands' Reformed heritage.
Although this chapter in the history of the Netherlands ends happily, with the Nazis thrown out and the Canadian liberators marching in, the story today ends in tragedy. Hitler's men were defeated, but his philosophy of “life unworthy of life” lives on in the Netherlands in the twin spectres of abortion and euthanasia.
Journey Through the Night is available in an English translation from Inheritance Publications (second from the bottom) and will be keenly appreciated wherever faith, bravery, and shoot-outs in burning houses are held in high regard.

13 comments:

Radagast said...

I grew up with Reis Door de Nacht. It is indeed a classic!

Your readers might not be aware that Anne de Vries is a man. His first name is pronounced something like Ah-nuh, from the Germanic arn "eagle" (in contrast to the Hebrew origins of the female name).

Radagast said...

Oh, and "keenly appreciated wherever faith, bravery, and shoot-outs in burning houses are held in high regard" is a great description!

Suzannah said...

Did you read RDDN in the original Dutch? Have you read the Harry der Nederlanden translation (Inheritance Press)? I've always been interested in how they compare, as I've felt the translation could be bettered. It'd be nice to be able to read it in the original language...

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this Suzannah!
I'd love to read it and it is now on my book 'wish list'.
I'm half Dutch - my mother and her family moved to Australia in the 60's.
Kathleen Tully

Radagast said...

Yes, it was the Dutch RDDN I grew up with, although it's the Harry der Nederlanden translation I have on my shelf now. I'm very glad the translation exists, but I've always thought it could be bettered too.

Suzannah said...

Maybe one day, Radagast, someone will make a better translation!

Kathleen--"Journey Through The Night" is probably my very favourite book about the Netherlands, but I have a long list of other favourites too:

-The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom (of course)
-Hans Brinker (or, The Silver Skates) (of course--it's not just a good story, it's also a history and geography lesson! Loved it!)
-By Pike and Dyke by GA Henty (GREAT adventure story, all about William the Silent versus the Spaniards)
-Lysbeth by H Rider Haggard (again, the time of resistance against the Spanish occupation)
-Salt In His Blood by William Rang (another Inheritance Publications book, about admiral Michael de Ruyter. I haven't read it, but apparently it's THRILLING)
-Dirk's Dog, Bello by Meindert de Jong
-The Scout series by Piet Prins (from Inheritance Press again--fun WWII resistance stories for younger boys).

Suzannah said...

Oh, and I knew I'd forgotten something--

-The Winged Watchman by Hilda von Stockum; and
-The Borrowed House by Hilda von Stockum.

Radagast said...

I was going to recommend the "Scout" books (as you say, for younger readers). In the original, they were "Snuf de hond." These books were filmed (in Dutch).

Radagast said...

There are also a lot of books of the RDDN type that have never been translated; some very good. For example, Klaas Norel wrote a trilogy about the Spanish, French, and German occupations.

Anonymous said...

Thank you! I've added them to my list!
: )
Kathleen

Rebecca said...

Thanks for this review and list of Dutch books. I've got Dutch heritage and would like to read more. I've recently read The Wheel on the School by Meindert de Jong which I thought was delightful.

Suzannah said...

You're welcome, Rebecca! I'm sure you'll enjoy some of those books. Inheritance Publications is a GREAT resource for Dutch books.

I like a lot of Meindert de Jong's books--Dirk's Dog Bello is fantastic, and I also enjoyed Far Out the Long Canal. On the other hand, Shadrach and Journey from Peppermint Street were just weird--I didn't enjoy them at all.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this description. When my dad was growing up in Assen, Anne De Vries was their neighbor and friend. I nave heard many wartime stories of what went on in their neighborhood during the days of Nazi occupation and the underground resistance. It would be interesting to read this book to see if any of the stories I have heard are reflected.

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