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Louis Paul Boon

Hans Kolfschoten, Louis Paul Boon, Hanny Michaelis & Jacques Presser (1967)

Louis Paul Boon (15 March 1912, in Aalst – 10 May 1979, in Erembodegem) was a Flemish novelist and competes only with Hugo Claus (1929-2008) for the title of most important twentieth-century Flemish writer in the Dutch language. He forsook the literary Dutch of the Netherlands for regional Belgian Dutch words and expressions with which he colored his writing in a Faulknerian way.


He was born Lodewijk Paul Aalbrecht Boon in Aalst, Belgium to a working-class family. When he was very young Boon witnessed the shooting of a prisoner by a German soldier, otherwise the First World War, which ended when Boon was only six years old, left little traces in his writings. Boon left school at age 16 to work for his father as a carriage painter. During evenings and weekends he studied art at the Aalsterse Academie voor Schone Kunsten but soon had to abandon his studies due to lack of funds. As a literary author Boon was not an early bloomer. During the 1930s he tried time and again to write something worthwhile, but in vain. Yet as the 1940s took off, he matured and wrote his first published works in a row, including a novel based upon the life of Vincent van Gogh, Abel Gholarts (1944, not available in translation).

World War II

At the onset of World War II Boon was a soldier in a division stationed near the village of Veldwezelt, in order to defend the Albert Canal. However, he was captured as a prisoner of war on the first day and eventually sent home, after a few weeks in a prisoner camp. His experiences during the War and mostly the Occupation are the subject of Boon's fourth book, My Little War (1947, translation 2010 by Paul Vincent, Dalkey Archive Press), now widely regarded as a major masterpiece of Dutch literature of World War II. With this title Boon emerged for the first time as an important innovator of the novel. Rather than containing one story, "My Little War" contains over thirty loosely interrelated chapters, each containing a story that can be read as an independent piece. Most stories describe the difficult circumstances of life during the Occupation, such as finding food and fuel to warm the house, some deal with the deteriorating sexual mores, and some treat more direct war experiences such as bombings. Yet the overarching structure, though well hidden, makes for a coherent whole as well. The stories are interspersed with numerous raw fragments about equally raw incidents during the Occupation as the short stories: rape, theft, treason, humiliation. Boon admitted that the work of John Dos Passos provided the inspiration for this literary device. In this book, the term 'enemy' by no means signifies Germans exclusively, even though one story tells of the extermination of a Jewish girl and another of a camp prisoner's experiences. People are just as likely, if not more, to be robbed of food, money, or even their spouse's fidelity by their neighbours as they are by the Germans.

After World War II

Boon discovered he had a talent for writing and found work as a journalist for De Rode Vaan (1945–1946), Front (1946–1947) and De Vlaamse Gids (1948). Later he contributed to the newspaper Vooruit with which he established himself as a freelancer. In subsequent years, Boon divided his energies between a constant stream of novels and journalistic pieces for Het Parool, De Zweep, Zondagspost. and other newspapers and magazines.

De Kapellekensbaan (Chapel Road)

In 1953 he published the work that now stands as his greatest masterpiece, Chapel Road (De Kapellekensbaan, translated by Adrienne Dixon), which he began to write as early as 1943. Its dazzling construction combines several narrative threads, including an almost postmodern one where the writer and his friends discuss how the story should develop further. Another one is an extensive reworking of the most classic medieval work in the Dutch language, the twelfth-century story of Reynard the fox.

In 1969, he stopped writing (except for his "Boontjes" columns) and devoted himself to painting in his home in Erembodegem. Boon died in his home in 1979 at the age of 67.


Boon's literary legacy is a versatile, ranging from journalistic pieces on Belgian politics and society to erotic novelas. In historical novels such as De Bende van Jan de Lichte, De zoon van Jan de Lichte, De Zwarte Hand, and Daens, he depicted the oppression of the working class in 19th century Flanders; in his controversial Geuzenboek, he wrote about the Spanish domination of the Low Countries in the 16th century. Nearly all of Boon's work was infused by his profound commitment to socialism; in experimental, modernistic works such as Vergeten straat, Boon projected an ideal society but at the same time shared his doubts as to whether human nature could achieve utopia.

Nobel Prize

Boon was thought to have been shortlisted for a Nobel Prize in Literature in the late 1970s, and even received an invitation to appear at the Swedish Embassy, probably to be told that the Prize had been awarded to him.[citation needed] The day before the appointment he died at his writing table of a heart attack. Very little of his writing has been translated into English, but De Kapellekensbaan and Zomer in Ter-Muren are both available in English translation from Dalkey Archive Press as Chapel Road and Summer in Termuren, and Paul Vincent's translation of Mijn kleine oorlog (as My Little War) was published by Dalkey in 2009.

Selected bibliography

  • De voorstad groeit (1941)
  • Abel Gholaerts (1944)
  • Vergeten straat (1946)
  • Mijn kleine oorlog (1946)
  • De Kapellekensbaan (1953)
  • Zomer te Ter-Muren (1956)
  • De zoon van Jan de Lichte (1962)
  • Dorp in Vlaanderen (1966)
  • Geniaal, maar met korte beentjes (1967)
  • Wat een leven (1967)
  • Over mijn boeken (1969)

Extended bibliography

  • Het brood onzer tranen (1939)
  • De voorstad groeit (1943)
  • Abel Gholaerts (1944)
  • Vergeten straat (1946)
  • Mijn kleine oorlog (1947)
  • Boontje's uitleenbibliotheek (1949)
  • Boontje's twee spoken (1952)
  • De Kapellekensbaan (1953) Chapel Road—published by Twayne 1972 and Dalkey Archive 2003
  • Boontje's reservaat 1 (1954)
  • Boontje's reservaat 2
  • Wapenbroeders (1955)
  • Menuet (1955) Minuet—published by Persea Books 1979
  • Boontje's reservaat 3 (1955)
  • Boontje's reservaat 4 (1956)
  • Zomer te Ter-Muren (1956)
  • De kleine Eva uit de Kromme Bijlstraat (1956)
  • Niets gaat ten onder (1956)
  • Grimmige sprookjes voor verdorven kinderen (1957)
  • De bende van Jan de Lichte (1957)
  • Boontje's reservaat 5 (1957)
  • De paradijsvogel (1958)
  • Vaarwel krokodil of de prijslijst van het geluk (1959)
  • De liefde van Annie Mols (1960)
  • Gustaaf Vermeersch (1960)
  • Reportages (1961)
  • De zoon van Jan de Lichte (1961)
  • Blauwbaardje in Wonderland en andere grimmige sprookjes voor verdorven kinderen (1962)
  • Dag aan dag (1963)
  • Het nieuwe onkruid (1964)
  • Reservaat (Verzamelde reservaten, 1965)
  • Dorp in Vlaanderen (1966)
  • Wat een leven! (1967)
  • 16 (1968)
  • Geniaal... maar met te korte beentjes (1969)
  • Twee spoken (Maagpijn - Uitleenbibliotheek) (1969)
  • 3 Mensen tussen muren (1969)
  • De bom (1969)
  • 90 Mensen (1970)
  • Boon-apartjes verzameld door Gerd de Ley (1971)
  • Pieter Daens (1971) (adapted on film)
  • Als het onkruid bloeit (1972)
  • Eten op zijn Vlaams (1972)
  • Mieke Maaike's obscene jeugd (1972)
  • De meisjes van Jesses (1973)
  • Zomerdagdroom (1973)
  • Blauwbaardje in de ruimte (1973) with photographs from his son Jo
  • Davids jonge dagen (1974)
  • Verse boontjes (1974)
  • Menuet en andere verhalen (1974) Omvattend : Twee spoken / Menuet / De kleine Eva uit de Kromme Bijlstraat / Vaarwel krokodil of de prijslijst van het geluk
  • Memoires van de heer Daegeman (1975)
  • Verscheurd jeugdportret (1975)
  • De zwarte hand (1976)
  • Het jaar 1901 (1977)
  • Het geuzenboek (1979)
  • Verzamelde gedichten (1980)
  • Eros en de eenzame man (1980)
  • Ook de afbreker bouwt op (1982)
  • Proleet en fantast (1982)
  • Een operatie
  • Het zoutvat van Boontje Boon samengesteld door F.-J. Verdoodt (1985)
  • Hij was een zwarte en andere reportages (1986)
  • Memoires van Boontje (1988)
  • Boontjes 1959-1960 (1988)
  • Zondagsleven van Pomponneke (1988)
  • Vertraagde film (1988)
  • Brieven aan Morris (1989)
  • Vertellingen van Jo (1989)
  • Als een onweder bij zomerdag(1989)
  • Brieven aan literaire vrienden (1989)
  • Boontjes 1961 (1989)
  • Boons scenario's (1989)
  • Niets dan wat oorlog (1989)
  • L.P. Boon radio actief (1991)
  • Eens, op een mooie avond (1992)
  • Boontjes 1962 (1992)
  • Soldatenbrieven (1993)
  • Boontjes 1963 (1994)
  • Het literatuurkritische en kunstkritische werk. I. De Rode Vaan (1994)
  • Het literatuurkritische en kunstkritische werk. II. Front (1994)
  • Het literatuurkritische en kunstkritische werk III. De Vlaamse Gids (1995)
  • Boontjes moppenencyclopedie (1995)
  • Het literatuurkritische en kunstkritische werk. IV. Vooruit (1997)
  • Boontjes 1964 (1998)
  • Het boek Jezebel (1999)
  • Brussel, een oerwoud (1999)
  • Fenomenale Feminateek (2004)
  • Eenzaam spelen met Pompon (2005)

See also

External links