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An Untouched House

by Willem Frederik Hermans

A slip of a book at 80 pages, but what's in those pages is devastating. There's a dark core to this book, but that's how it should be with a story set during the final desperate months of the Second World War, as the Russian army crush anything in their path in pursuit of the the retreating Germans. Anything less would have felt wrong. It is unsettling, blunt, shocking - like a punch to the guts. Disturbingly memorable.

Extract

The roof flew up like a swarm of black slate. Smoke started coiling out of the the windows at a tempo that was very different from mine. A German emerged and ran for the road. I shot him. A second, as well. A third. A fourth. They bent double like butterflies being mounted. I stabbed them to death with a pin six hundred feet long. I didn't manage to hit the fifth before he'd jumped in the river. I clicked a new magazine into my rifle and by the time I'd emptied it, I was certain the German's head was no longer visible above water. I leapt up and raced forward with all kinds of things running through my mind. One of the Germans might not be dead. He could shoot me with his pistol. Or there might have been more of them in the house; there could still be a couple in there. Or they'd jumped out at the rear while I was trying to hit the swimmer and hidden in the bushes on the hillside. They couldn't possibly miss as I passed by. But I didn't know what else I could do except run.
Translated by David Colmer

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