The Forbidden Path
In hooligan hands
This is the story of Philip Soek, social worker, whose first job is in a home for problem children where discipline is maintained through a complicated system of rewards. Because Soek comes from a wealthy family both inmates and his colleagues wary of him and he works flat hour to win their approval.
Soek is the narrator, and he talks drily and laconically about his experiences with the kids. When they go on holiday to a campsite in Brittany, one of the young people dies. Who is responsible? This book delves deeply into the rationalizations made as hands are washed in innocence.
Kees van Beijnum’s ambitious novel gives a razor-sharp and convincing picture of the social care provided to young people who have gone astray. Through his narrator Soek, the author has succeeded in presenting several unsentimental and compelling portraits of the young people and the members of staff without distancing himself from them.
As the novel progresses it becomes clear that Van Beijnum’s choice of the social services as his theme is an accurate and interesting metaphor for social relations at large which are so often – and vainly – held in place through rewards, punishments, and rituals.
The protagonist is not emotionally capable of participating in this world, and the novel presents a harrowing and intriguing depiction of this failure.