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Hylke Speerstra. De Kalde Krustocht.

Hylke Speerstra. De Kalde Krustocht. Gorredijk, Netherlands. Bornmeer. 2009. 192 pages. 25 [euro]. ISBN 978-90-5615-210-9

The year 2009 in Friesland is dedicated to the one-hundred-year jubilee of the society "The Frisian Eleven Cities." That society is directly connected to the Eleven-City Skating Race, a famed two hundred kilometer race that is held whenever a hard frost freezes the Frisian canals and lakes to accommodate the thousands of would-be champions. Besides the planning of many festivities for the year, the jubilee committee commissioned the well-known Frisian author Hylke Speerstra, who himself participated in several of these marathon races, to write a commemorative book. The result is De Kalde Krustocht (The cold crusade), a collection of eleven ice-race connected stories.

To be commissioned to write ice stories for a jubilee year might tax the powers of imagination of even the best writers. Speerstra, the best-selling author of such sagas as De Oerpolder, is up to the challenge. As a masterful storyteller, he knows how to move the reader to tears, sometimes through heartbreaking loss and sometimes through hilarious comedic touches, as he does in this volume. There are the poignant tales of the drowning of an only child and of a lonely immigrant's return to his motherland, where he discovers a sonhe didn't know he had.

Speerstra also knows how to paint vivid physical portraits, like the Rubenesque Woltsje with huge silken-soft milker's hands that have cows seeking her out to be milked, and romantic heroes like the handsome skipper, Wiggele, skating his way through the night toward the open arms of Woltsje, climaxing in a celebration of love and passion worthy of a Vivaldi symphony.

But there are also stories of thwarted love, of intrigue, of betrayal and revenge. And there is the wildly imagined concluding story, a futuristic sci-fi tale (the setting is 2018) of two unlikely characters hitting it off and planning a race with the help of Russian technology, only to find themselves defeated by Mother Nature.

Speerstra's most engaging stories feature three-dimensional characters whose plights elicit human sympathy or whose human mystery evidences itself in an inexplicable obsession with the marathon medallion, making them willing to sacrifice even their hard-earned reputation and integrity to obtain it.

De Kalde Krustocht comprises an ice race through the twentieth century and beyond, through times of hardship, class prejudice, war, emigration, and affluence. Hylke Speerstra tells the "story" of that marathon race in all four modes of literature: romance, comedy, tragedy, and irony. It's yet another worthy achievement of Friesland's most popular storyteller.

Henry J. Baron

Calvin College
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Author:Baron, Henry J.
Publication:World Literature Today
Article Type:Book review
Date:Nov 1, 2009
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