Hoe Tortot zijn vissenhart verloor
This is a book that deserves a large international audience for its subject matter alone. With a great deal of humour, Benny Lindelauf describes a pointless war of the kind that could have taken place not all that long ago, not all that far away. Are we reading about the American civil war? Or are these scuffles and skirmishes Napoleonic? For the soldiers, it does not really matter: at the appointed time, they meet up to fight, and sometimes one army loses, sometimes the other.
In spite of this serious subject, Hoe Tortot zijn vissenhart verloor (How Tortot Lost His Fish’s Heart) is not a weighty book. Tortot is a marvellous cook, still managing to make delicious meals for the soldiers every time, with fewer and fewer ingredients. It is thanks to him that the men can keep on fighting the war. His life depends on his creativity. If he does not succeed, then he runs the risk of ending up before the firing squad. And then there’s only one way out: when the going gets too tough, he swaps sides and joins the other army.
One day, inside a barrel of pickled gherkins, he finds a young deserter who has lost his legs on the battlefield. He calls him Half-George and reluctantly takes the boy under his wing. The two of them go on to have one bizarre adventure after the next.
Ludwig Volbeda, known for his work for adults, has made timeless illustrations to accompany the story, packed with cannons and swords, emperors and castles, all of which tell their own fascinating stories. Even without reading the words, this is a book you can spend ages leafing through.
But is it all one big joke? The Handbook of Wartime Etiquette, the stomach-turning story about the ‘Virgin Cheese’ and the amusing exploits of the two vain emperors might suggest so. But just at the right moment it becomes clear that the tough cook Tortot, who says himself that he has the ice-cold heart of a fish, misses his mother and secretly dreams of peace.