“We were ashamed of our drunk singing, our vulgar language, our vomit and increasingly frequent visits from the police and bailiffs. We were ashamed, but doing nothing to change.”

The Misfortunates (De helaasheid der dingen, 2006) is a novel from one of the most important contemporary Belgian authors, Dimitri Verhulst (1972). The novel has been translated into more than 20 languages, and presented the author with the title of “the greatest talent of Flemish literature.” A successful movie based on the novel was filmed in 2009 and it was the Belgian candidate for the Academy Award.

It is a semi-biography told from the perspective of a thirteen-year old (later a grown man), affectionately called little Dimitri, who grows up in a dysfunctional family, living in his grandmother Marie’s house with an alcoholic father Pierre and three uncles Potrel, Witten and Zwaren: all of them “ruined their romantic relationships and returned to their mother,” Dimitri’s grandmother.

Now they waste all of their money, earned from temporary jobs or social welfare, on heavy drinking in local pubs. This is nothing strange for a bunch that considers that living until 60 is the “pinnace of babbittry.” Only Dimitri’s father has a permanent job, at the post office, but he has also been “in significant debt at pubs for several of his salaries.”

With his sincere and straight forward style, full of crude humor and sarcasm, but also with a touch of sympathy for his characters, the author easily leads us into a world without shame and proper manners, a world of alienation and social deprivation.


Author: Dimitri Verhulst

Translator: Radovan Lučić

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