Soldiers Don’t Cry
Historical novel about Julian & Quentin Bell growing up amidst the Bloomsbury group
During a holiday in England, Rindert Kromhout visited Charleston, the home and meeting place of the writers, artists and academics of the famous Bloomsbury Group. He was captivated. He knew then that he wanted to write a book about this place, about these people. In Soldaten huilen niet (Soldiers Don’t Cry), he reconstructs the history of Quentin and Julian, sons of art critic Clive Bell and artist Vanessa Bell, who, together with her sister, the writer Virginia Woolf, formed the heart of this group of artists.
This idyllic childhood in the English countryside is packed with colourful individuals: the homosexual artist Duncan Grant, the intriguing biographer Lytton Strachey, the eccentric patron of the arts Lady Ottoline Morrell. Growing up amongst this vibrant group, the boys develop in opposite directions: Quentin hangs on his aunt’s every word and dreams of a life as a writer, while Julian becomes fascinated by communism and increasingly distanced from his artistic family life. While Julian likes to experience his adventures in real life, his brother Quentin prefers to make them up for himself. So it makes sense that Kromhout presents him as the author of this story. Equipped with tips from his aunt, Quentin develops into the author he always wanted to be. ‘If you die first, I’ll write a book about you,’ he says to his brother, when Julian tells him he wants to go and fight in the Spanish Civil War. ‘If you die first, I won’t have a brother,’ Julian replies.
In vivid, captivating prose, Kromhout takes the reader on a journey to the England of the 1920s and 30s and offers a peek into this celebrated group of artists. Kromhout can take credit for making Soldiers Don’t Cry more than just a fascinating historical account. He has turned these historical figures into real, true-to-life characters, ensuring that this story touches not only our minds, but also our hearts.