The Cockfight

Stories about people in impoverished circumstances are often very gripping. When life is hard, the decisions you make can really matter. If you have no money and something goes wrong, your situation can quickly go from bad to worse. Hans Hagen’s The Cockfight is all about living in poverty and making the right decisions.

Original title
Het hanengevecht
Hans Hagen

One day, when Pio is working near a waterfall, carrying a coolbox full of drinks for a group of tourists, he comes across a stray rooster. Pio would rather be at school than working, so he decides to use his spare time to train the bird to fight, with the aim of winning a prize at the cockfights. If he succeeds, he will be able to buy a new motorbike taxi, so that his dad can go back to work and Pio and his sister can return to school.

The world in which Pio is growing up is a pretty tough place. Cockfighting may be illegal throughout most of Europe, but where he lives it is a very popular sport. The birds that fight in the cockpits have a short and difficult life. Pio’s bird has a deadly knife attached to its foot to slash its opponents with, and Pio’s grandfather cuts off the rooster’s comb and wattle so they won’t get in the way during the fighting. The losing birds end up in Cecil’s cooking pot and are eaten when the day’s fighting and betting are over.

Most of the losing birds are owned by poor people, because the richer breeders can afford to pay for special food and even performance-enhancing drugs. And it’s usually the poor people who lose out on the betting as well. In fact, that’s exactly how Pio’s father, who already had little enough money to spare, managed to lose everything, including his old motorbike taxi and his job.

So there’s a lot at stake. Hagen, who is a devoted animal lover, manages to keep the story objective and successfully presents Pio as a boy who loves his bird even though he knows how things are likely to turn out. Hagen skilfully uses precise, short, powerful sentences to polish the story to its poignant and thrilling essence.

This is a serious story, but not a dark one, and the surprising twist and unex­pectedly happy ending – in which Pio’s grandfather plays an important part – provide a fine conclusion.

Pages: 106
Age: 8+
Year of Publication: 2012
Publisher: Querido

Hagen succeeds in presenting a vivid and objective picture of this world. He doesn’t spare his readers any of the details, but he doesn’t judge.

de Volkskrant

He writes a kind of dancing prose that carries you along very naturally and rhythmically. […] a feel-good book that you close with a smile on your face.

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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