Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Little Ark

by Jan de Hartog
Finished December 16, 2009

Another serendipitous find. I was wandering through the stacks hoping to stumble across something good to read. I came upon this unlikely volume. With a faded mustard yellow cover featuring coarse cartoon figures, this looks like an old, obscure children's book.

While it could have some child appeal, this is not a children's novel. Jan De Hartog wrote this book in 1954, right after the terrible and disastrous 1953 flood in the Netherlands. It's the story of two children, Adinda and Jan and their three animal companions, Noisette the cat, Bussy the dog and Ko the rabbit (and sometimes Prince the rooster). They are sent up the bell tower of their father's church to sound the alarm when a storm hits and flooding seems likely. The flood that does hit goes beyond anyone's wildest expectations. Miles of land are covered in water and the two children are separated from their parents. This is the story of their adventure as they search for refuge from the disaster. But it is also about the disaster itself. I had no idea this terrible event happened. It was a catastrophe along the lines of Hurricane Katrina. Jan De Hartog does a good job of portraying the awfulness of the disaster, but it's not a completely depressing story. It's a disaster seen through the eyes of two innocents. For them, it truly is an adventure. But by the end, the devastation begins to wear them down as well.

Unfortunately, this little book is nearly forgotten. I think that only one other person has checked it out from the library in the past five years. It is old fashioned in style and some of the descriptions don't translate well to modern audiences.

But I'm glad I discovered it.

Update: As I feared, it has been withdrawn from the library. Too bad.

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