A moving and imaginative double-sided book
Something very striking about Daan Remmerts de Vries’ De Noordenwindheks (‘The Witch of the North Wind’) is that if you turn it over you will see that it has two front covers. This is one book containing two interlinked novellas: one about eleven year-old Mori Brunèl and the other about Rifka Verdigaal who is the same age. It is up to the reader to decide which story to begin with.
Mori and Rifka’s paths accidentally cross in a hospital room as their voices find each other ‘somewhere’ between their beds which are separated by a grey curtain. Remmerts de Vries includes an illustration of a curtain in the middle of the book, making you realise that the children are inventing each other and their friendship, and that each story can be read from a different perspective. Rifka’s story reads as a flashback. She is in a place where time doesn’t exist and where ‘she never needs to wait to get better.’ The imaginative Rifka, who loves fairy tales, tells us very naturally and modestly about her serious skin condition. She tells us about her eccentric Uncle Gol, her clock-maker guardian who cares for her with love and affection.
She also tells us about her ‘floatings’ (out-of-body experiences) and her meetings with a ghost; about how she ended up in hospital and met clumsy, shy Mori – the only child of divorced parents with a tremendous sense of guilt and a life-threatening illness.
Mori’s time in hospital, told by an omniscient narrator, runs parallel to Rifka’s. Yet, both stories remain separate. If you are on Mori’s side of the curtain, you get a summary of Rifka’s fairy tale about the Witch of the North Wind who, with her icy breath, makes people ill, but when you are on Rifka’s side, you get to read the entire fairy tale.
The two moving, imaginative and humorous stories reinforce each other and eventually meet at the battle with the Witch of the North Wind that both children fight in their own way. Because of each other, their fantasies and their faith in a possible victory, the two children will find the strength to fight the fight.