That Day in August
This cinematic, imaginative novella about the violence of nature forms a touching tribute to the artist’s skill as a storyteller
With a great eye for detail, children’s author Rindert Kromhout and illustrator Annemarie van Haeringen use words and pictures to tell a small but multi-faceted story about a devastating event in an Italian village. However, Die dag in augustus (That Day in August) is not just about how painfully unpredictable life can be. This is first and foremost a tale about how we need stories to survive and to live.
The novella begins like a quiet Italian movie: bright, sunny, carefree. Fourteen-year-old Enrico is walking to see his grandfather Luigi, who lives in the valley with his flock of sheep. As always, Enrico takes his sketchbook. He captures on paper the things that he sees and experiences along the way. Ever since he was a small boy, he has wanted to become an artist, inspired by the stories about saints that are painted in the village church.
At a pleasantly relaxed Mediterranean pace, Kromhout and Van Haeringen skilfully bring the village and its residents to life. The atmosphere created by author and illustrator are just right, and they complement each other perfectly.
Van Haeringen’s depiction of the charming village perched on a slope within the hot and hilly landscape is beautiful. The way Kromhout evokes the senses in his written sketch is equally stunning. The fragrant olive trees, the aromas wafting from the kitchens, the elegance of Teresa, Enrico’s sweetheart, and the bickering about religion between widower Luigi and his new love, Marta: you feel like you are in Italy. But then disaster strikes.
Then comes part two, in which Kromhout, without ever mentioning the earthquake, slowly reveals what happened “that day in August”. His descriptions hit home – a street, for example, looks like a “tower of blocks” that has been kicked over by a child – but it is the pictures that speak volumes. In just a few lines, Enrico, using Van Haeringen’s hand, depicts the impact of the natural disaster, by “not only showing what it was really like, but also his own thoughts and feelings”. Beauty proves to be a consolation. Kromhout is right to refer to his novella as “an ode to the artist as historian”.