‘Thirty Days,” the latest novel from Belgian author Annelies Verbeke, has recently been translated from Dutch and made available here in the United States through World Editions, a publishing house committed to translating literary works from around the world into English. Here is a powerful novel that is as subtle and thoughtful as it is earth-shattering, with an ending that will break your heart.
The book begins simply: Alphonse is a painter and drywaller living in rural Flanders, a flat rugged landscape that offers a decidedly different life from his past as a musician in Brussels.
But life is far from dull, as Alphonse’s clients turn to him one by one and reveal their secrets — an affair, a condition, a death that continues to haunt them. And while the stories — and Alphonse’s role in them — can take dramatic turns, all are completely believable, showcasing our universal need for understanding and connection.
But “Thirty Days” is about more than a modern Good Samaritan who thinks nothing of taking an injured restaurant worker to the emergency room — it’s a novel about immigration and prejudice, made all the more powerful through Verbeke’s extended passages about Alphonse’s ordinary life. Here is a good, decent man, working to strengthen his relationship with his long-term girlfriend; who regularly calls his mother in Senegal; who takes in a client’s dog when things become difficult at home. And yet he is continually confronted with racism, from a client canceling an appointment because of Alphonse’s skin color to a physical attack from strangers.
While slow to start, it’s important to consider “Thirty Days” as more of a life study than a traditional novel by U.S. standards, a book to read slowly and to thoughtfully consider, like a found journal or a series of letters.
Verbeke has constructed an entire life in 30 days (the chapters are numbered as such), and the result is nothing less than extraordinary.