Deep in the Forest of Nergena
It really doesn’t get much more cold-hearted than this: one Sunday evening in September, Uncle Pep comes to town on his motorbike to borrow one of his nieces. And who better than Frieda the pest? She has to go with him to the family’s remote house to entertain her lonely and maladjusted cousin Jet.
This is the beginning of Diep in het bos van Nergena (Deep in the Forest of Nergena), Margriet Heymans’ latest book. Fortunately, Frieda isn’t easily thrown. She sends letters full of macabre humour to her sister Adalie, who writes back and tells her that life is going on as usual in town: Father’s lost his job and Adalie’s lost her glasses, there’s hardly anything to eat, Mother’s hurt her foot and their newborn brother has died. Could it be that there’s a war going on? That’s a big word, dangerously big, and it’s never actually used in the book.
Heymans’ inimitable style, packed full of undertones and black humour, keeps this book light and airy and means that there are more reasons for laughing than crying. Until, that is, it begins to dawn on the reader what’s really going on and it becomes painfully clear that the girls are just trying to keep their spirits up with their dark sense of humour.
As in all of Heymans’ books, the illustrations are essential. They complement the text in such a way that the story can’t do without the pictures and the pictures can’t do without the story. This is precisely the way text and pictures should work together.
There is only one point of criticism regarding this book: is it actually more of an experimental novella for adults who want to relive their own WWII childhoods, rather than a real children’s book? This, however, does not alter the fact that Heymans, who for years now has been producing a unique kind of illustrated literature that appears to be all about childhood itself, has written and illustrated a new highpoint in her oeuvre.
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