The Circus Cyclist
Imaginative, playful and sometimes absurd
The summer of 1945. The war has just ended, and life resumes its normal course. Those who survived the war help one another get back on their feet. In a town in the north of Holland lives the ten year old Homme. The families on the street take in children from a nearby town, which was bombed to the ground shortly before the liberation.
The most striking of all the orphans is Joeke. Joeke does things that Homme can only imagine, and he tells wild stories. About his father who is a circus performer in Mexico and about a miraculous rock, which makes its possessor immortal. Because of it Joeke cannot die, and he dreams up one death-defying adventure after the other. A special friendship, as brief as it is intense, develops between the two boys.
They show American soldiers around the city, build an enormous catapult and do dangerous stunts. Joeke becomes a circus cyclist, riding a unicycle over a rope, and Homme becomes a sword swallower. In their little world, which is bounded by a canal, a shipyard and a railroad bridge, there is delightful confusion between what is possible and what is not. With a touching logic the boys try to mend their broken world.
The climax is a circus performance at the close of the book, when the children from the bombed-out city have to return to their families. From Homme and Joeke the residents of the community get the idea to organize a huge neighborhood party, where the boys show off their circus acts.
Harm de Jonge does a fine job of evoking the atmosphere of post-war Holland as seen through the eyes of elementary school children. He shows subtly and believably how it gradually dawns on Homme that his friend had made up all those wonderful stories and is using them to repress a terrible secret. Without straining after effect, De Jonge builds a fragile monument to an unforgettable friendship.
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