Kneeling on a Bed of Violets
Crucial to understanding religious extremism, regardless of the kind or era
After writing for thirty years, Jan Siebelink is experiencing an unprecedented triumph with Knielen op een bed violen (Kneeling on a Bed of Violets). Since its publication this book has dominated the bestseller lists and has been awarded the AKO Literature Prize. According to a Flemish critic, Siebelink’s magnificent reaches the soul of ‘la Hollande profonde’.
‘I’ve always been afraid to tell the whole story,’ Siebelink wrote to his publisher. In retrospect, the first story that he wrote, Witte chrysanten (White Chrysanthemums), which was part of Nachtschade (Nightshade, 1975), his first collection of short stories, contains the essence of his later work.
In this story, a son takes revenge in a subtle way on the florist who had humiliated his father. The strict religious milieu, the setting in the parents’ nursery, and the father-son relationship recur in an intensified form in Knielen op een bed violen. The writer has conquered his fear, and how! The story is set in the 1930s, in the ‘Bible Belt’ of the Netherlands, the heart of the Veluwe. Hans Sievez, the son of a factory worker, grows up in the hamlet of Lathum.
Poverty and despair drive Hans’ father to preaching the old traditional faith. When his mother dies, Hans runs away from home, becomes an apprentice nurseryman, and in the nursery he meets Jozef Mieras.
The latter recognizes in Hans Sievez a person who yearns for salvation and certainty and is open for the message from on high. When Sievez, together with the love of his youth Margje, starts his own nursery, it is the beginning of a lifelong struggle against the appeal of Mieras and his brothers. Despite the growing conflicts with his family, Hans’ religious extremism increases bit by bit, especially after he believes he has seen the Light.
With great empathy Siebelink describes the radicalization of his principal character. Because he lets Sievez be surrounded until the very end by people who love him, his slow but sure withdrawal from the world affects the reader profoundly. Language, composition, suspense, and power of expression have led many readers to remark that Knielen op een bed violen is the best Dutch novel of 2005.