Peter van Gestel


Eight-year-old Mariken is considerably younger than most of Van Gestel’s main characters. She lives in a time like the Middle Ages and her story was inspired by a miracle play well known in the Netherlands. A foundling, she was raised by an old eccentric, who, besides teaching her the laws of nature, also taught her to read. All her knowledge of human existence comes from the chapbook Mankind Is a Farce, but when Mariken goes out into the world in search of a new goat, there appears to be much, much more out there.

In the company of a troop of itinerant actors, the girl has breathtaking adventures and experiences the security of living among rough actor folk, who become a kind of family to her, presenting one of Van Gestel’s favourite themes: the importance of the relationship between parents and children.

Mariken gives a colourful, more or less historical picture of overcrowded inns and market squares, of superstitious people whose lives are ruled by fear of the plague, the devil, and witchcraft. The oral tradition blossoming at that time is illustrated by openly recounting the most bizarre events. The heart of the book, however, consists of the lovingly drawn portrait of an uninhibited child, the archetype of innocence, feeling her way through an unknown world.

As always in Van Gestel’s writing, the reader can enjoy the animated dialogues and the polished, almost aphoristic sentences Mariken uses to question those around her about God, love, death, and the soul. This in particular testifies to Van Gestel’s exceptional ability to capture the large view in small words.

Every one of Peter van Gestel’s children’s books has something special about it. A particular atmosphere, an original idea, remarkable psychology or an unusual narrative style. Mariken, his fourteenth book, has all of the above. It is witty, original, theatrical, intriguing, intelligent and written in compelling language. It forges an unexpected bond between modern doubts and an old miracle story.

Joke Linders, Algemeen Dagblad

Peter van Gestel is one of the Netherlands’ best authors for younger readers (…). His book (…) is bliss, it exercises the mind and feeds the soul. It is a sure-fire prize-winner.

Lieke van Duin, Trouw

This is what this book is about: the power of beautiful stories, the way imagination can help you get through life, the art of enchanting others with a beautiful story.

Aukje Holtrop, Vrij Nederland

Mariken is the most beautiful, most moving and funniest book for younger readers to appear this year.

Selma Niewold, de Volkskrant


Peter van Gestel

Peter van Gestel (1937-2019) made a name for himself in the Netherlands as a scriptwriter for radio and television. In the late 1970s, he started writing for children of about eleven and up in a weekly magazine and later on a newspaper. His main characters are lively young oddballs who have not yet…

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Mariken (1997). Kinder- en jeugdboeken, 192 pagina's.

Illustrated by Annemie Heymans


De Fontein

Herculesplein 96
NL-3584 AA Utrecht
The Netherlands
Tel: +31 88 800 26 00
Fax: +31 88 800 29 99

[email protected]

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