War and Friendship
Poignant memories of a difficult wartime friendship
It is, of course, no coincidence that the boy on the front of Oorlog en vriendschap (War and Friendship) wears exactly the same distinctive round glasses as the 88-year-old author Dolf Verroen. The protagonist may be called Joop, but his experiences are the wartime memories of Verroen himself.
While many children’s books about the Second World War focus on excitement and adventure, Verroen writes quietly about the life of an ordinary, rather shy little boy, who does not play a heroic role. The war is something that happens to Joop and, as an eleven-year-old, he has to cope with it as best he can. This passivity is a strong basis for the book and, historically speaking, a realistic one.
War and Friendship, then, does not rely on suspense for its impact, but on the personal, perfect tone in which Verroen writes. The brief chapters, with atmospheric black-and-white miniatures by Charlotte Dematons, concisely describe scenes from day-to-day life in wartime Holland, with the real drama concealed within small observations and comments: ‘I thought Mr Millenaar would say something about the raid, but he just started with grammar as usual.’
Sometimes the danger comes close to home, as when a neighbour is shot in a Nazi reprisal. Verroen writes about this incident plainly and honestly.
Then Joop discovers that his friend Kees’s parents are members of the NSB, the Dutch national-socialist movement, a political party that collaborated with the Nazis in the war. He’s shocked, but he still wants to stay friends with Kees.
Verroen makes it easy to identify with Joop’s dilemma. For example, when Joop’s mother hisses at him to keep walking when they see Kees: ‘I wanted to yell, to tear myself away. I did nothing. I walked past him as if he were a stranger.’
Dolf Verroen wrote this gem as the gift book for the annual Children’s Book Week in the Netherlands. In October 2016, an astounding 345,000 copies were distributed and the book was very positively received by the critics.