Stories about knights always go down well with children. But it’s trickier to tell a medieval religious story about a saint’s life in such a way that it becomes exciting and understandable for a young audience of today. Agave Kruijssen succeeds marvellously in doing just this in Vrije val (‘Free Fall’).
The medieval poem Beatrijs is seen as the first literary text in Dutch. Although the story has been preserved in many European languages, no version is as elaborate and beautiful as the Dutch version. At least, that’s what Dutch literary scholars believe.
The book is based on a story about a young nun who is so smitten with her noble lover that she leaves the convent for him. This is a great sin and it brings untold shame upon her family. There is no way back for her! Unfortunately, her lover turns out not to be as noble as he had made out: when the money runs out after seven years, he leaves Beatries and their two children in the lurch.
Beatries now has to turn to the streets, where she sells her body. When, seven years later, she reluctantly drags herself back to the convent in the hope of washing away her sins, no one has even noticed her disappearance. The blessed virgin Mary has taken her place all these years.
Kruijssen’s candid manner of storytelling makes a profound impression. In an emotional and passionate monologue that maintains the tension throughout, she regales her readers with authentic sentences that tell it like it is and a number of metaphors that are magnificent in their simplicity.
It was also a clever decision to make this into a framework story and have Beatries herself confess the events to a travelling abbot. This means that readers are hooked right from the start. What could be the great sin that she has committed? Vrije val is indisputably one of the best volumes in Kruijssen’s series of medieval stories for children. She ensures that Beatries’s miraculous return to the convent is still remarkably touching even seven hundred years after the event.
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