“To be what I am, is that something that I should be happy about?”

The Darkroom of Damocles by classic Dutch author W. F. Hermans is one of the best and most intriguing novels about WWII and his first title translated into Croatian.

Taking place in occupied Netherlands, this is a story about a salesman Henri Osewoudt who “does nothing, wants nothing, and has let everything be decided by chance.” Until mysterious Dorbeck enters his shop and assigns him tasks against Germans, which eventually include murders. Dorbeck is remarkably similar to Osewoudt, but is also his opposite: dark-haired and bold, unlike the barefaced and shy Henri. At the end of the war, Allies arrest Osewoudt and he cannot prove he was working for the resistance or that Dorbeck exists. Is Osewoudt a hero, a traitor or a misguided psychopath?

The story of Osewoudt’s fateful wandering through a “sadistic universe” (title of Hermans’ essay collection) has several meanings and is at times only borderline realistic, but also exact and convincing: networks of streets and trams, descriptions of interiors, atmosphere of war in the Netherlands… It has no superfluous words; sentences are concise, style is simple. It is a cold and dark, entertaining, grotesque, complicated and warped novel. It is a furious war thriller and a literary masterpiece in which nothing can be anticipated and which challenges us to face the questions of what makes sense, what is morality, what is good and what is evil. The novel shows us that our worlds and interpretations of life are colliding constantly and that the final answers are nothing but the double-edged sword of Damocles.


Author: Willem Frederik Hermans

Translator: Radovan Lučić

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