‘An Untouched House’ by Willem Frederik Hermans – A Very Short Respite from War


‘An Untouched House’ by Willem Frederik Hermans (1951) – 88 pages          Translated from the Dutch by David Colmer


In an ‘Untouched House’, World War II is raging toward its end, and the fighting for an unnamed Dutch partisan soldier is intense along the border of The Netherlands and Germany.

A German emerged and ran for the road. I shot him. A second, as well. A third. A fourth. They bent forward like butterflies being mounted. I stabbed them to death with a pin six hundred feet long. I didn’t manage to hit the fifth before he jumped into the river. I clicked a new magazine into my rifle and by the time I’d emptied it, I was certain the German’s head was no longer visible above water.”

The partisans push into German territory. They wind up in a town that looks to have been a luxury resort town of spas. Our soldier wanders off by himself into one nice rather large house which appears to so far have been untouched by the war. There is nobody there except for two dogs who ignore him. He looks through the belongings of the German man and woman who lived in the house, sees their grand piano.

In their bathroom, there is a large bathtub. Our soldier turns on the hot water tap and finds the water to be nice and hot. He takes his clothes off and takes a long bath and washes away the detritus of months of fighting.

He settles in to the house. But soon the German owners, husband and wife, show up.

The world is once again involved in a violent war confrontation which could well lead to World War III. ‘An Untouched House’ is a vivid reminder of the violent savagery that is unleashed by war. In his Afterword to this novella, the writer Cees Nooteboom perhaps expresses it best when he speaks of “the bungling, the pointless fumbling in what he (Willem Frederik Hermans) called a sadistic universe, the chaos in which human lives are played out when the semblance of order called civilization has been breached.”

Will the humans be able to save themselves from their own innate brutal savagery this time?


Grade:    A




5 responses to this post.

  1. I don’t think I could bear to read this one, because I suspect I know what happens when the couple return.
    Re WW3: Our former PM Kevin Rudd (who’s now a Big Noise at some International Think Tank in the US) has written an excellent book called The Avoidable War. It’s about China (he’s fluent in Chinese) but in some ways it could just as easily be about Russia. I couldn’t finish it before it had to go back to the library, so I haven’t reviewed it, but I would say that the more ordinary mortals read it, the more likely they are to contact their political leaders about ways to stay true to democratic values but scaling down the war rhetoric for domestic consumption so that diplomacy can do its work. (Rudd used to be a diplomat, and a foreign minister, so he knows what he’s talking about.)

    Liked by 1 person


    • Hi Lisa,
      Somehow countries wind up with these really, really evil leaders like Hitler, Stalin, and Putin, and apparently no country is exempt. I’m not familiar with the China situation but have read it could turn explosive at any time.
      One non-fiction book I have been reading small parts of is ‘Legacy of Violence – A History of the British Empire’. When India was divided up with India for Hindus and with Pakistan and East Pakistan for Muslims, that unleashed terrible violence between the two groups as people had to relocate. They figure that between 1 and 2 million were killed as a result of the violence itself and many, many more died from diseases in relocation camps. Britain used these relocation camps throughout their Empire, and they were terrible places where many would die because Britain refused to spend money on them except for a multitude of security forces. The British Empire was a long standing disaster.



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