Nelleke Noordervliet

Vrij man

A bold historical novel about the quest for freedom and knowledge, set in the Golden Age and the present day

In Free Man, Nelleke Noordervliet makes full use of the freedom that a storyteller has. In the novel’s opening scene she describes her own encounter with her protagonist at the Dutch Reformed Church in Woodstock, New York. Together with this man, Menno Molenaar, who is lost in the 21st century, she travels back to the 17th-century Republic of the Seven United Netherlands.

Menno Molenaar is the son of a Rotterdam doctor and, like his father, he is fascinated by new scientific insights. He wants to study medicine but, following his father’s death, the family’s assets prove insufficient. With financial support from the city of Rotterdam, he embarks upon a theology course at the University of Leiden, where he finds himself moving in the same circles as Spinoza and Adriaan Koerbagh. These philosophers and scientists accept him as their equal and stand by him when he is banished from the university for smug­gling in a prostitute. Menno is guided not only by high ideals, but also by a weakness for drink and women.

Noordervliet’s treatment of historical figures is not without risks for the credibil­ity of the novel, but she brings all of her characters convincingly to life, partly because of the distinctive voices that she gives them. One such example is Henry Dixon, a hard-of-hearing English mer­chant who lives in Leiden and who takes Menno into his service and continues to support him – even though Menno eagerly surrenders to his wife’s sexual advances. Dixon sends Menno to The Hague to work as a clerk in the service of Grand Pension­ary De Witt, where he gathers information about the Republic.

Menno feels constrained by the power that Dixon has over him, but is not overly concerned and still acts as a free agent, passing on information not only to Dixon, but also to Van Aitzema, a diplomat and spy. Menno becomes increasingly entan­gled in a web of circumstances, which leads to Dixon’s murder and Menno’s escape to the New World, where he intends to start over.

The ins and outs of life in 17th-century Holland, the politics of the Republic, life as a pioneer in America, historical figures such as Koerbagh, Spinoza and De Witt – all of this is brought beautifully to life in Free Man. When the writer puts down her pen and leaves her protagonist behind, what remains for the reader is a sense of longing for the world conjured up by Noordervliet’s words.

You should not use essays to defend yourself against those who claim that the novel is dead. What you need to do is press a book like Free Man into their hands.

Het Parool

Noordervliet sets herself the goal of breaking through the entrenched image of the idyll of the Golden Age and the associated historical clichés […] She succeeds admirably.

NRC Handelsblad

Nelleke Noordervliet

Nelleke Noordervliet (b. 1945) made her debut with Tine of De dalen waar het leven woont (Tine or The Valleys Where Life Lives, 1987), a fictionalised biography of the wife of nineteenth-century Dutch writer Multatuli. Her other publications include the novels De naam van de vader (The Name…

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Vrij man (2012). Fictie, 464 pagina's.
Aantal woorden: 139.000



Prinsengracht 911-915
NL - 1017 KD Amsterdam
Tel: +31 20 524 98 00
Fax: +31 20 627 68 51

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