Lightning Child

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.

Original title
Hans Hagen

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.

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

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.

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

NRC Handelsblad
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.
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