Jan De Hartog Ludo Abicht - Essay

Ludo Abicht

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

In many ways, the Quaker Jan de Hartog reminds one of Graham Greene, his Roman Catholic counterpart. Both are crafty and fascinating storytellers, both are more obsessed with the forces of evil than with the power of salvation; both remain loyal to their faith yet highly critical of their religious organizations, especially of the bureaucracy, the self-righteousness and the little power games church people also play. [The Lamb's War], a kind of monographic sequel to de Hartog's broader historical work, The Peaceable Kingdom, tells the story of Laura Martens, a Dutch girl, from her experiences in a Nazi concentration camp and her "new life" as a G.I. bride in a Quaker family, to her successful career as an international advocate for the starving and threatened children of the Third World.

Mainly through his realistic style, already evident in his strong wartime novel, Holland's Glory, Jan de Hartog succeeds in avoiding the hagiographic turn such a story would take in less skilled hands. His main characters are as complex and contradictory as life, they are as confused as any of us, and when they do take a stand, as Laura does, they soon find out that a choice between their personal happiness and their mission cannot be avoided.

But, besides legitimately raising a series of central ethical and religious questions, this novel has all the qualities of a well-structured adventure story. De Hartog proves this poignantly in the camp scenes and the drug-aroused orgy of violence in the Indian village, of which he paints a vision not unlike the apocalyptic nightmares of Hieronymus Bosch or the masks of James Ensor. As a narrator, de Hartog obviously never has left the Netherlands and their fantastic traditions.

Ludo Abicht, "Books: 'The Lamb's War'," in The Antioch Review (copyright © 1980 by the Antioch Review Inc.; reprinted by permission of the Editors), Vol. 38, No. 3, Summer, 1980, p. 393.