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The Assault Paperback – March 12, 1986

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Editorial Reviews


“A beautiful and powerful work…takes its place among the finest European fiction of our time.”
—Elizabeth Hardwick
“A political thriller that removes the postwar scar tissue protecting society…a psychological thriller probing the moral devastation between neighbors, fellow students, husbands and wives…It is Mr. Mulisch’s triumph to have revealed all this…with an x-ray cunning.”
The New York Times Book Review

Language Notes

Text: English, Dutch (translation) --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon; American ed edition (March 12, 1986)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0394744209
  • ISBN-13: 978-0394744209
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (57 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #370,006 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

44 of 46 people found the following review helpful By John Hovig on December 11, 2002
Format: Paperback
Chief Inspector Ploeg is shot and killed in the winter of 1945, in Nazi-occupied Holland. He was a cruel collaborator with Holland's Nazi occupation force, and was assassinated by Bolsheviks on a street where four houses stand. His killers will run away in the dark of night, but Nazi troops will assault the home of young Anton Steenwijk, killing his parents and brother. This is because Chief Inspector Ploeg's body was found in front of their house. It had been moved there after the murder.
Anton spends the rest of the story trying to discover the exact events of that night, including why the body was moved before his house. He is reluctant to discover this past, because the memory is painful, and he almost does not want such illogical evil to have a logical explanation. Anton lives the second half of the twentieth century as normally as he can, encountering Ploeg's bullheaded son, and the various people who had also lived on his street, one at a time, with many years passing between each meeting. Near the end of the twentieth century, closer to the modern day, he encounters one of the people who knows the full story of the moved body, and Anton finally understands the mystery.
The book's ending is both poetic and shattering. We immediatly empathize with the innocent people who had lived in those four houses, and we decry the horrible mental torture which encompassed them after WWII. The events of that evening were caused by one hateful group of people murdering the representative of another hateful group, but the ill effects accrued to people who did not deserve it. Mulisch might be telling us that evil is a cancer. The actors in the main event, Ploeg, the Nazis, and the Bolsheviks, were the evil ones, but the four innocent households suffered.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Cornelis Oudenaarden on February 19, 2003
Format: Paperback
In Dutch highschools, this is one of those works which is read by everyone. Especially in the Netherlands this book has been analyzed to death, and I certainly won't add anything significant to the debate. The truth is that this is an incredible peace of art. Harry Mulisch is well known for his ability to write a great novel, but this is by far his best one. The story of the man who slowly discovers the truth about the events that killed his family is deeply touching, as well as telling. This book is not only about a man finding out a lost truth, it is about a country devastated through war, finding its way back on track. This story will tell you more about the spirit that lived within the Netherlands and the events that followed than some history books. I would greatly recommend this book to anyone who has a love for good literature as well as a wish to find out more about the Netherlands as a country during and after the war.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Geert Daelemans on September 29, 2002
Format: Paperback
1945. The Second World War is running to its end. A cold winters evening in the Dutch city of Haarlem. The Steenwijk family is sitting around a small fire. Suddenly six gunshots disturb the silence outside. Then a singular cry of pain. Never will Anton Steenwijk forget the images of that dreadful day when he, at the age of twelve, losses almost everything. Now, years later, he has to suffer those horrors again, when the truth finally starts to unfold.
Although the setting is clearly World War II, this story is not relating the heroics of soldiers or people active in the resistance. It describes the personal search for truth of a man who doesn't realise how much impact things he thought to have banished from memory have on his life. During his search he stumbles onto information that will change him completely.
The way Harry Mulisch has depicted the person of Anton Steenwijk is undoubtedly the most powerful asset of this book. Anton does not want to find the truth, but still the truth wants to be found. And what he unwillingly uncovers does not only startle him, but also leaves the reader with topics to think about. Isn't everybody guilty and not guilty at the same time?
This book reads like a train and engulfs the reader to the extend that he will never be able to forget the history of Anton Steenwijk.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 26, 1998
Format: Paperback
The novel is about one incident, but still spans 38 years. It starts when a police officer who collaborates with the German occupiers of Holland is being assaulted and shot. In revenge, the Germans burn the house in front of which he was found, but somebody had been dragging the body around... why? The main person, a boy from the house, loses his parents and brother in the killings that take place because of the assault. He grows up in another city, and becomes a doctor. His encounters with some persons (e.g. the son of the police officer) are being documented, and his philosophical musings over the subject. Only after 38 years he finds out what really happened... (I read the originial, Dutch version.)
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Ralph Blumenau on July 23, 2005
Format: Paperback
In a Haarlem street the Dutch Resistance kills an active collaborator. In retaliation the Germans have destroyed a house in that street in which live ten-year-oldAnton Steenwijk with his parents and elder brother. Anton survives, but his parents and brother are killed. As Anton grows up, he wants to suppress all memories of that time, and it is not a coincidence that he chooses to become an anaesthetist. But of course the trauma is buried within him, and affects his mental life in many ways, some that are inexplicable to him. But the members of the resistance who had carried out the assassination are haunted also, by their knowledge that their deed had led to uninvolved people being shot. All these states of mind are explored in this story, as much that lay concealed emerges over the 36 years after the event. The reader is engaged as taut knots are loosened and unwound.

During all this time the world moves on and new political issues arise - Vietnam; the anti-nuclear movement. Do they leave the old issues behind or are they connected with them?

This short book's limpid prose is very precise, profound and rich in unobtrusive symbolism. It is all very compelling
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