Review by Frank Parker
As the citizens of a Dutch town celebrate the departure of the German army in May of 1945, a couple of teenagers come across a young soldier separated from his unit. One of them, Piet, becomes a successful photographer but is plagued by guilt about his involvement in subsequent events and the nightmares that guilt engenders. But it is what happens after he makes contact with the soldier’s sister that makes this a powerful novel about forgiveness in general and our ability to forgive ourselves, or not, in particular.
The principle characters are well drawn. Their relationships, influenced in turn by jealousy and lust, are entirely believable. The long term effects of the trauma of war echo down the years. I have no reason to believe that this book is autobiographical but the fact that the author grew up in occupied Europe enables him to draw upon that experience and its impact on the lives of a generation of men and women who went on to create the peace and unity that characterises modern Europe.
Originally self published in 2010, the book has recently been reissued by the UK independent publisher TSL Books. The publisher specialises in taking on books and authors who find it difficult to gain the attention of agents and traditional publishers. Most are gems deserving of a wide audience. Johannes Kerkhoven’s book is one such.
Review by Arnie Wilson
The secret of Johannes Kerkhoven’s masterpiece is the completely unexpected oh-my-god developments. The suspense is nerve-wracking.
It starts with a shocking death of a young German soldier, and the shocks keep coming as the two teenagers involved cover up the killing. What makes the background so realistic is that Kerkhoven was around in the suburbs of Hilversum as a small boy when WW2 was coming to an end, and actually witnessed marauding German soldiers in the streets, just as they do in his novel. On the very first page, we read, in the teenaged hero Piet’s words: “Ten or so German soldiers were jumping out of the trucks at the end of our street…Escape routes blocked, we waited our turn as the Germans entered each house. If your door was not opened promptly when they knocked with their rifle butts, they kicked it in.”
To escape arrest Kerkhoven’s father would disappear into a space he had dug under the floor of their back room. This real-life scenario from 1945 is reproduced as an important theme in State of Guilt. Much of the drama surrounds two young women, both of whom Piet falls in love with in turn. Hold on to your hat when you read this book. You simply won’t be able to put it down.