Then Came Sam - Edward van de Vendel

Review by Bas Maliepaard
Translation: Laura Watkinson

Published in Dutch newspaper Trouw, September 10, 2011

Vorige

‘It came as a surprise whenever you saw him, because he was always so beautiful and white, and also a little bit mysterious.’ Nine-year-old Kix and his younger sister Emilia immediately fall in love with the big Pyrenean mountain dog who walks into their lives, but sometimes suddenly disappears again. The dog is nervous, thin, has sad eyes, and tangles in his ‘warm snowy fur’. Slowly the children gain his trust. But where did he come from?

This heart-warming story is one of Edward van de Vendel’s best books so far. This is mainly a result of the tone, which flows as though the story, which is based on true events, is telling itself. With the exception of a few details, you don’t sense a writer at work here, trying to craft everything as beautifully as possible. Van de Vendel does of course do so in this book, but more subtly than in his other works. Kix’s authentic voice and his experiences really are the most important elements.

This means that, seen through adult eyes, it remains a rather small story, entirely about emotions and the problems surrounding a stray dog. But Van de Vendel skilfully makes us feel how such an event is anything but a small story in the life of a nine-year-old.

Kix and his sister want to keep the dog and they call him Sam. Their love for Sam is touchingly obvious in the way they see him as an equal and take his own wishes seriously. He’s free to go where he pleases, but happily Sam realises one morning that he knows something for certain: ‘Sam didn’t come here because they wanted to keep him. He came because he wanted to keep them.’

Then Kix’s dad discovers that the dog actually belongs to the disturbed Cracker, the son of the nasty neighbours across the road. And his name is Nanook, not Sam. But Kix is sure that whenever anyone had ever called Sam Nanook in the past he’d always thought: ‘I’m not a Nanook. I’m a Sam.’ Because that’s how it works when you’re a child. You’re sure that no one understands your pet as well as you.
It’s not long before Sam becomes the subject of a row with the neighbours. The tension really rises during a night-time mission to liberate Sam, which even involves the use of shotguns. And yet the story remains entirely believable.

Philip Hopman’s outstanding pen-and-ink drawings are as lively as ever, but seem sturdier than usual because of the way he plays with large areas of black. The white Sam shines out of them, looking wonderfully lumbering and sweet.
 
The award-winning oeuvre of Edward van de Vendel (b. 1964) now numbers over fifty titles and is remarkably varied. He has written picture books such as Kleinvader, non-fiction books about the Ajax football club and bullying, YA novels like De dagen van de bluegrassliefde and De gelukvinder, poetry for young people and his Superguppie collections of poems for toddlers.

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