Koningsdochter, zeemanslief (King’s Daughter, Sailor’s Sweetheart) by Karlijn Stoffels is a fairytale story for young and old about the beauty and the sadness of love. In this chain of eleven melancholy life stories that give the impression of being based on old folktales, Stoffels sings of the romantic love between man and wife, the never-ceasing love of a son for his mother, the suffocating love of a mother for her son, the lack of love of parents for their royal daughter, the deep love of a carpenter’s daughter for a sailor, the sailor’s everlasting love for the sea and the sweethearts he has in every port. Stoffels shows how the whims of love determine the course of our life.
These love stories are told by Bennik, the singer of sorrows, who is the son of deaf-mute parents. He sings at funerals, after floods and forest fires: ‘everywhere that people need the consolation that is known as mourning’. Bennik’s enchanting voice, which touches people deeply, evokes the moving life stories of those who have died. Stoffels phrases these in an original way, using short, expressive sentences with poetic repetition that stimulate the imagination and are wonderfully in keeping with the timeless fairytale character of Koningsdochter, zeemanslief.
The reason Bennik is able to ‘see into all of the people’s pain and sing it out’ is his own raw grief about his beautiful, dead, deaf-mute mother, the only person he has ever been unable to console, following the death of his father. Bennik’s grief drives him eastwards, away from the coast where he was born.
Whilst Bennik is trying his luck in the east, the happy, accordionplaying Mitoe is travelling westwards. She is the daughter of unfeeling, argumentative parents who are infected by the ‘woordpest’, the ‘word plague’, one of Stoffels’ striking neologisms.
Mitoe hears stories about the singer of sorrows and ‘his mournful dark eyes’, who, by chance or otherwise, shares her date of birth. It inspires her to dream of ‘the day when she and Bennik will travel the world together, Bennik consoling people with his songs of sorrow and she making them dance and sing’. As befits a great storyteller, only Stoffels knows whether Mitoe’s dreams will come true.