A Guardian Angel Recalls


Translated from by

Published: November 16, 2021





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Book Description

“One of the most beautiful novels that I’ve written.”  — Willem Frederik Hermans

Alberegt, a public prosecutor and self-proclaimed “man of minor failings,” speeds through Hook of Holland in his black Renault on May 9, 1940. His every move is guided by the cool and patient hand of a guardian angel. Flitting about from the hood of Alberegt’s car to the rim of his windswept hat, the angel attempts to quell their unhappy ward’s fears and secrets. (On occasion the heavenly narrator is so ashamed of Alberegt that they cover their own face with guardian wings.) The angel, musing for just a moment on the greater suffering of mankind, forgets a frenzied and lovelorn Alberegt at the wheel and Alberegt swerves into a small child crossing the road. This fatal event, on the eve of Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, spins the novel into a nightmare in which even expressions of empathy and humanity are edged out by cynicism and cruelty. Reminiscent of Georges Simenon, Albert Camus, and Kurt Vonnegut, A Guardian Angel Recalls is a brilliant and unnerving masterpiece.

Hermans explores moral conundrums through the reckless acts, selfish thoughts, and crises of conscience of his antihero. Better still, his angelic narrator provides insight into life in the Netherlands under the Nazi jackboot, and reflects eloquently on the brutality, but also the futility, of war.
Malcolm Forbes, Star Tribune

Influenced by Franz Kafka and Thomas Mann, [Willem Frederik Hermans] produced some of literature’s most profound reflections on the second world war.
Dalya Alberge, The Observer

Hermans is one of Holland’s great 20th-century writers.
David Mills, The Times

With its hapless protagonist, acerbic tone, and laughable rumors of war (including German paratroopers disguised as nuns), much of this newly translated 1971 novel by the late Hermans is a comedy of errors. But its scenes of destruction are shattering and surreal . . . A sly but scorching Dutch masterpiece.
Kirkus Reviews, starred review

Hermans interweaves a bitter, occasionally darkly comic moral fable with an unforgettable account of the Nazi invasion of the Netherlands, first published in 1971 and seamlessly translated by Colmer. . . . [A Guardian Angel Recalls] should establish Hermans as a modern Dostoyevsky
Publishers Weekly, starred review

Survival is suddenly uppermost in the minds of the previously complacent characters in A Guardian Angel Recalls, David Colmer’s translation of Willem Frederik Hermans’s deeply sardonic fictional rendition of the first few days of the German invasion of the Netherlands . . . Wickedly enticing.
Alida Becker, New York Times Book Review

Hermans was a keen observer of human nature and in this previously untranslated work, he takes a chaotic, complicated situation—the Nazi invasion of his country—and presents it in keen, telling details . . . A scathing exploration of human nature, of the small pettiness that consumes people even in the most dramatic of situations . . . One of those stories that should be read as widely as possible.
Marissa Moss, New York Journal of Books

[Willem Frederik Hermans's] world is bleak, plain and murderous, and sometimes hilarious, which is an unsettling kind of genius.
Michael Pye, author of Antwerp

Utterly compelling. The force of the narrative . . . rushes the reader along with all the power of a river that has burst its banks and been turned dark and tumultuous by an unstoppable act of nature.
Duncan Stuart, Exit Only

A Guardian Angel Recalls is a strong work presenting personal tragedies, and a national one. Alberegt's desperation [is] mirrored, funhouse-like, all around him, a light comic touch just making the overall grimness of the situation all the more clear. A significant work, by a major writer.
M.A.Orthofer, the complete review

Two contrasting energies galvanize Hermans’s fictions. The wry invitation to find symbols and deeper meanings is balanced by a wealth of detail and meticulously described action, all rapidly delivered, convincingly concrete, and psychologically persuasive . . . Hermans knows life intimately and that his knowledge is devastating.
Tim Parks, New York Review of Books

A peculiar, undeviating character’ – in the words of his admirer Cees Nooteboom – Hermans realized his dark, existentialist vision in an idiosyncratic prose, here seen at its finest. David Colmer’s superb translation is particularly effective when it comes to Hermans’s portrayal of character . . . All are fully humanized, and nuanced, despite their inadequacies in the context of a war from which no one emerges unscathed.
Paul Binding, Times Literary Supplement

[A Guardian Angel Recalls] is structured like certain Highsmith novels: a character commits a crime, sometimes involuntarily, and spends the rest of the book hoping to escape his fate or waiting to be apprehended . . . It’s a measure of Hermans’s gifts that we find ourselves so painfully aware of something we may have thought in the dead of night and kept to ourselves when we awoke. He makes us grateful that he has transformed his fears into fiction so vivid and entertaining that we can simultaneously recognize, investigate, and escape our darkest imaginings.
Francine Prose, Harper's

A worthy American press, Archipelago Books, recently sent me a novel with an inauspicious title (A Guardian Angel Recalls) by a Dutch writer (Willem Frederik Hermans) I hadn't heard of. I decided to politely read five pages. Next thing I knew, I was a hundred pages in. The novel, newly translated by David Colmer, is set in the first days of Hitler's invasion of Holland. The main character, speeding in his car to help a Jewish refugee flee the country, hits and kills a little girl and hides her body. The ensuing story is part thriller, part family novel, part metaphysical investigation, and also, unexpectedly, part comedy. I've since learnt that Hermans is considered one of the great Dutch writers of the 20th century. A Guardian Angel Recalls will give you an idea why.
Jonathan Franzen, Sydney Morning Herald

Praise for An Untouched House

It takes an hour or two to read, but An Untouched House is the kind of book that stays with you forever.
Sam Jordison, The Guardian

A slim but potent war story. . . Hermans doesn’t deliver an explicit moral judgement on the narrator... but the thundering violence of the closing pages sends its own message. Fire, a suicide attempt, torture, and hanging are all shadowed by men killing with a cynical, mocking cruelty, stressing Hermans’s point that dreams of peace can easily become entangled in violence. A dark wartime vision that evokes Koestler, Orwell, and Vonnegut.
Kirkus Reviews, Starred

Although An Untouched House is brief, it is worth pacing oneself and absorbing its remarkable density. Hermans is the architect of a masterful story – concise but expansive in vision... a lucid, exhilarating account.
Peyton Harvey, Zyzzyva

An Untouched House is a small but unforgettable story about the schizophrenia of war. W.F. Hermans’s writing is implacably precise, always searching for truth, evocative but austere, and thoroughly addictive. Reader be warned: after An Untouched House you will want to read everything this great European author wrote.
Peter Terrin

It is a novel of desperate survival. But the sensation it transmits is not desperation; rather, the entirety of it, even the horrific scenes of death and torture, feels like a nightmarish dream through which both the reader and the characters wander, without much choice and absolved of all morality... It is perhaps this very immediacy, the apparent inexistence of anything beyond the present moment, which makes Hermans’s novella not only bearable, but utterly immersive.
Juan E. Suarez, Meridian

In An Untouched House, a disillusioned WWII partisan soldier deserts and finds an abandoned house where he decides to stay. What unfolds is a strange and taut psychological tale of how individuals might choose to ignore the horrors of the outside world until they inevitably come crashing down around them. Ending in an explosion of violence that illuminates the true savagery of the human heart, this little stick of dynamite is less than 100 pages and damn near perfect.
Keaton Patterson, Brazos Bookstore

The most unsettling book I’ve read this year, An Untouched House proves the horror and inhumanity of the twentieth century is just that: unsettled. Hermans’s pithy masterpiece is a warning.
Hal Hlavinka

As disturbing and powerful as anything by Joseph Heller or Kurt Vonnegut.
Michael Faber, The Guardian

Underrated: the Dutch writer Willem Frederik Hermans, especially his novel An Untouched House.
Ian McEwan, The Times Literary Supplement

Crackling with uneasy tension . . . A beautiful new edition of a powerful and timeless, slim Dutch masterpiece, written in a spare and crisp style that brings to mind Camus.
The Lady

[Willem Frederik Hermans] is such a skilled writer, writing about very serious issues while, at the same time, being often flippant works well to make for a very worthwhile novel.
The Modern Novel

Read the first chapter of the book in Ninth Letter here!