Forgiveness happens only when we forgive ourselves

State of Guilt by Johannes Kerkhoven reviewed.

Crowd of Dutch civilians celebrating the liberation of Utrecht by the Canadian Army, May 7, 1945. Library and Archives Canada

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.

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