Books

REVIEW | 'Thirty Days'

Life study proves to be extraordinary

‘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.

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.