Book: Harvest of War
Author: Jan Smolders
Reviewed by: William de Baets, consul general of Belgium in Atlanta
This year I read Jan Smolders’ Harvest of War. Written by a compatriot living in Florida, the novel describes the last months of World War II in a small Belgian town. Based on the grim historical reality of the moment, Smolders weaves together themes of heroism, treason, love and humanity in a thrilling plot.
While a fictional story, the setting reminded me of the true stories my father told us from his experiences as a boy during the war. After the Normandy debarkation many felt the winds of change and started realizing that the German occupation might not last forever. It made occupiers and also some collaborators act more harshly and cruelly, sometimes in reprisals to the increasingly bold but more reckless acts by resistance fighters. Meanwhile, the real heroes continued helping Jews, allied pilots and others sought by the Germans flee the country or hide in place.
This book about World War II reminded me of course also of the suffering by my country in World War I, the so called Great War that everybody hoped would have been the last one, and the centennial of which we commemorate from 2014 to 2018.
The U.S. entered World War I in 1917 and therefore will mainly remember it in 2017, but Americans were significantly involved before their official combat entry date. Less known is that American volunteers were fighting at the front lines, American nurses were helping in military hospitals in Europe and American humanitarian and food aid were helping populations in Belgium and (the North of) France survive. This project, created and led by business magnate Herbert Hoover before he became president, is known as the Commission for Relief in Belgium and continues to stand as an one of the most poignant historical instances of Trans-Atlantic solidarity.
The comprehensive traveling exhibition “The Great War in Broad Outlines” compiled by Belgian historians for the commemoration of World War I will travel across the U.S. during the first semester of 2017 and will be exhibited at the Atlanta History Center in March and April.
Learn more about the exhibition here.
Mr. Debaets will speak at Global Atlanta’s next Consular Conversation event Jan. 20. Learn more about that event and sign up here.
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