1984, Antwerp Has a PhD in history. Loves thunder. Hates dog-eared books.
Her debut novel Mist over het strand [Fog at the beach] (2001) was published when she was 16 years old. It is about two German child soldiers during the Normandy landing. After that her writing continued in a historical vein. Duivelsvlucht [Flight of the Devils] (2002) is about Bokkenrijders, gangs who ransacked and terrified in the 18th century; De gebroken harp [The Broken Harp] (2004) about the Easter Rising in Ireland; and Geen stap terug [Not One Step Back] (2005) about the Battle of Stalingrad. Her international breakthrough came with Wij, twee jongens [We, Two Boys](2006), about a poor Flemish family who emigrated to the US at the beginning of the 20th century, and with The War Within These Walls (2011). In 2013 Het meisje en de soldaat [The Girl and the Soldier] was published. In 2015 Grensgangers was released, about three generations of one family during the era of the Berlin Wall. Her work has been translated into Danish, German and English.
How people manage to survive in difficult circumstances – that is what fascinates her.
The Girl and the Soldier
Translated by Mirjam Pressler
Jacoby & Stuart, 2016
Original title: Het meisje en de soldaat (De Eenhoorn, 2013)
A small village behind the front, during World War I. While soldiers struggle to fight, life behind the front goes on. In the inn, where soldiers come to catch their breath, lives a blind girl. One day, she finds someone sitting on her bench: a black soldier, with the ‘scent of roasted nuts’.
A friendship slowly develops. He tells her about warm Africa, about the wife and child he has left behind. She tells him about her father, who is also fighting at the front. In the little girl, the soldier does not see the mistrust and fear he sees in other people. He feels good with her, she’s not scared. The girl bakes bread for ‘her soldier’, but that day the bench remains empty. She goes to find him at the front.
The suffering and misery of the war are not avoided. Ann De Bode’s intimate illustrations show fear, sorrow and pain. Sax writes her story in a simple, well-considered style, zooming in alternately on the girl and the soldier.
This is emphasised typographically in the form of white and black pages. The sparkling dialogues are presented identically in both stories, but the reflections of the girl and the soldier give the conversations a different slant.