Bob Van Laerhoven
A fulltime Belgian/Flemish author, I made my debut as a novelist in 1985 with the novel Nachtspel (Night Game) and quickly became known in Flanders for my ‘un-Flemish’ style and my kaleidoscopic novels in which the fate of the individual is closely related to broad social transformations. I became a full-time author in 1991. As a freelance travel writer I explored conflicts and trouble-spots across the globe from 1990 to 2003: Somalia, Liberia, Sudan, Gaza, Iran, Iraq, Myanmar, Lebanon, Mozambique, Burundi… to name but a few.
During the Bosnian war I spent part of 1992 in the besieged city of Sarajevo. Three years later I was working for MSF – Doctors without frontiers – in the Bosnian city of Tuzla during the NATO bombings. At that moment the refugees arrived from the Muslim enclave of Srebrenica. I was the first writer from the Low Countries who had the opportunity to speak with the refugees. These conversations resulted in a travel book: Srebrenica – getuigen van massamoord (Srebrenica. Testimony to a Mass Murder). The book denounces the murder and torture of the Muslim population of this Bosnian-Serbian enclave and is based on first-hand testimonies. I concluded that mass murders took place, a notion that was questioned at the time but later was proven accurate.
In 2007 I won the Hercule Poirot Prize for the best mystery novel of the year with De wraak van Baudelaire. In 2013, the French translation La Vengeance de Baudelaire was published in France and in Canada. The English translation, Baudelaire’s Revenge, was published in the US by Pegasus Books in 2014. Also in 2014 came the publication in France and in Canada of Le Mensonge d’Alejandro (Alejandro’s Lie), a second novel in French translation. Baudelaire’s Revenge won the USA Best Book Award 2014 in the category “mystery/suspense”. In April 2015, The Anaphora Literary Press released the collection of short stories Dangerous Obsessions in paperback and in e-book. Both Heart Fever, a short story collection, and the mystery/thriller, Return to Hiroshima, were released in English editions in 2018.
I discovered the writing of Bob Van Laerhoven when fellow-author Jack Eason promoted his longtime friend. I took particular note of Van Laerhoven, because he is Flemish-Belgian, just like my grandparents and mother who emigrated to Canada from Belgium in 1919. (I wrote about my grandfather previously on this blog.) Bob has been a great correspondent with me since I first promoted him on Reading Recommendations, giving me a connection to my “roots”, so to speak, to a country and culture I’ve never had the opportunity to visit in person. Everything I know about Belgium came from my mother and grandparents (including the Flemish swear words I’ve used in a couple of short stories I wrote that Bob has so kindly corrected the spelling for me). He has also read and reviewed my published work, for which I am forever grateful. Of his writing, I have read everything in English I’ve been able to purchase, and Bob has filled in the gaps with a few pieces that were translated but not yet published in English. He is a powerful writer – gritty, down-to-earth, and a no-holds-barred kind of writer. He is also a master of this craft of writing. Bob Van Laerhoven definitely deserves more attention! So I hope readers of this post will now have a closer look. (Plus, Bob loves horses, as did my own grandfather!)
Return to Hiroshima
1995, Japan struggles with a severe economic crisis. Fate brings a number of people together in Hiroshima in a confrontation with dramatic consequences. Xavier Douterloigne, the son of a Belgian diplomat, returns to the city, where he spent his youth, to come to terms with the death of his sister. Inspector Takeda finds a deformed baby lying dead at the foot of the Peace Monument, a reminder of Hiroshima’s war history. A Yakuza-lord, rumored to be the incarnation of the Japanese demon Rokurobei, mercilessly defends his criminal empire against his daughter Mitsuko, whom he considers insane. And the punk author Reizo, obsessed by the ultra-nationalistic ideals of his literary idol Mishima, recoils at nothing to write the novel that will “overturn Japan’s foundations”…. Hiroshima’s indelible war-past simmers in the background of this ultra-noir novel. Clandestine experiments conducted by Japanese Secret Service Unit 731 during WWII become unveiled and leave a sinister stain on the reputation of the imperial family and the Japanese society as a whole.
Here’s a terrific interview with Bob Van Laerhoven conducted by The Hard Hat Book Site and a review of Return to Hiroshima on the same blog.
Here’s another interview with Bob Van Laerhoven speaking about his work in a podcast with David Brower.
You may find out more about Bob Van Laerhoven’s books (including all editions available in various languages, on his website.
Bob Van Laerhoven has been a frequent guest on Reading Recommendations, beginning in April, 2015.