Hans Hagen and Martijn van der Linden

Lightning Child

This multi-voiced story is a beautiful example of magical-realistic storytelling

An article in The Jakarta Post about the exploitation of an Indonesian boy as a miracle healer inspired Hans Hagen to write this book. His starting point: ‘A lot is possible in real life, but far more is possible in stories.’ The result is a playful tale about a girl hit by lightning who comes round with a stone in her hand, which has healing powers. She is then used by her family and other villagers for their own gain.

Writing about child exploitation resulting from poverty is nothing new for Hagen: he has done so before in Verkocht (2007), which won the Woutertje Pieterse Prize, and in Het hanengevecht (2012). What is new, though, is his magical-realistic approach to the subject. The story is told not only from the perspective of the girl, Yoko, but also from other points of view, including that of the lightning, the healing stone, the rice paddy where Yoko is found, Yoko’s grandmother’s rickety bed, and the long line of poor souls who hope to be healed.

Hagen poetically uses the subtleties and ambiguity of language to lend a soul to all these people and things. The way he breathes life into the lightning, for example, is enchanting: ‘I was fully rested. / I had lingered long and lazily, / slept until that sweltering day. / The moisture in the air had kissed me awake. / The heavy wetness and the scalding heat. / I sucked my lungs full to bursting. / Everything started to bubble away inside me.’ This poetic style also keeps the story nice and light, in spite of the serious, contemporary theme.

The dazzling Asian-style illustrations that Martijn van der Linden has provided for every chapter make this book a beautifully harmonious whole. The calligraphic symbols that he created to playfully reflect the characters in the chapters are ingenious. Just like Hagen, Van der Linden proves that there’s magic in real life.

Experimental and daring, a beautiful symbiosis of text and image.

The power of this children’s novel is in its poetic wordplay and appropriate illustrations.


Hans Hagen

Hans Hagen (b. 1955) is a versatile and award-winning author and poet who writes for all age groups, often about other cultures. In the early 1990s, he became well known for his anecdotal stories for younger readers, about the lively, imaginative Jubelientje and her grandma, with illustrations by…

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Bliksemkind (2022). Children's books, 192 pages.
Words: 22,092


Martijn van der Linden



Weteringschans 259
NL - 1017 XJ Amsterdam
The Netherlands
Tel: +31 20 760 72 10

[email protected]

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