Miep Diekmann

Marijn and the Smugglers

Storms and pirates

This historical youth novel is out on its own where its approach to Dutch colonial history is concerned. The central theme is slave trading in the Caribbean. The three children of a Dutch dignitary lose both their parents in a hurricane in Curaçao, in 1681. Sixteen-year-old Marijn goes to work as an apprentice surgeon on the ships of various slave traders, including that of the infamous smuggler, Jacob Pieterz, a transporter who avoids the regulations of the West Indian Company.

On board, Marijn becomes acquainted with the degrading business of slave trading and the harsh life of the seaman. Slaves are treated not as people, but as goods. Using numerous details that seem incredible to the contemporary reader, the author demonstrates how great the economic importance was of keeping the cargo as healthy as possible. Life was hard, for the uncivilised crew, too, as ‘hunger, disease and fear are the invisible fellow passengers at sea’. Marijn experiences thrilling adventures, to put it mildly, with storms and pirates. He is even sold as a white slave to the overseer of a sugar plantation and undertakes a search for the runaway slave girl owned by his family, with whom he is in love.

The narrative perspective, chiefly that of the youthful surgeon, sometimes jumps to the two younger sisters he left behind, working on a slave plantation. The elder as the law-abiding wife of a physician, the younger as a rebellious idealist, who sympathises with the slaves. Through her three young main characters and their adult, worldly-wise adversaries, Diekmann manages to shed light on many aspects of slavery. It is evident that she has carried out careful research for the book. She also, however, tells a compelling personal story, in which, under the influence of their alternative upbringing, three young people break with the prevalent traditions that are supported by politics and religion. It cannot be rewarded with a happy ending, but this dignified treatment makes the historical reality more or less bearable for the reader.

By Bregje Boonstra

This book is not just a harrowing adventure story but it can also be seen as a plea for an end to racial discrimination, something that persists even in our own century. Marijn and the Smugglers is a book with undeniable literary value and, what is more, it is educational and interesting.

Het Vaderland

An important book, not just because of the writer’s thorough knowledge of history, but also because of the way she manages to incorporate that knowledge into her story.


An extraordinarily smart book, far superior to the typical fare for young readers.



Miep Diekmann

For more than thirty years, from the mid nineteen fifties onwards, Miep Diekmann (1925-2017) played a prominent role in the world of children’s books. She stimulated the developments within Dutch youth literature through reviews, interviews and readings. She was also a translator and coached…

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Marijn bij de Lorredraaiers (1965). Children's books, 332 pages.

Themes: slavery



Wibautstraat 133
1097 DN Amsterdam
The Netherlands
Tel: +31 20 551 12 50

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