‘Ironhead’ gets a warm reception in the US
The US edition of ‘Ironhead’ (‘IJzerkop’), Jean-Claude van Rijckeghem’s scintillating young adult novel, is published by Levine Querido today. Even before publication, the book has already been greeted with considerable enthusiasm in the press. In Kristen Gehrman’s translation, the title is ‘Ironhead, or, Once a Young Lady’, and the New York publisher describes this remarkable historical adventure as ‘the riotous and powerful story of a fierce renegade, and the silly men who try to bring her down.’ Flanders Literature supported the English translation with a translation grant.
Disguised in Napoleon’s army
Constance, the eighteen-year-old assertive protagonist of ‘Ironhead’, has been married off to a man who, in return, lends her father money for his new invention. It doesn’t take ‘Stance’ long to figure out that when she falls pregnant she’ll be stuck forever. So one night she puts on her husband’s clothes and enlists as a soldier in Napoleon’s army. She feels more at home there than she could ever have imagined, but those on the home front spare no effort to find her.
Publishers Weekly dedicated a starred review to the book: ‘Rowdy and contemplative in turn, this celebration of historical gender nonconformity is as compelling as it is fun.’ Kirkus Reviews describes it as ‘vivid and brutal—but not without a sliver of hope’, while School Library Connection highlights the humour and the filmic qualities: ‘Rollicking adventure reigns in this fast-paced, humor-filled novel set during the Napoleonic Wars. A novel so vivid that one can easily imagine it being adapted as a period piece movie or streaming series in the future.’ The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, finally, is full of praise for the element of adventure: ‘Thrilling, often hilarious, and sometimes tear-jerking, this romp of a story is reminiscent of classic adventure tales such as ‘The Three Musketeers’.’
A novel so vivid that one can easily imagine it being adapted as a period piece movie or streaming series in the futureSchool Library Connection
To be continued?
This English translation is the first foreign-language edition of ‘Ironhead’, and that’s extraordinary. The English-language market is extremely difficult to penetrate, particularly for YA literature. Any interest tends to come only after a slew of translations in other tongues. Dutch is a minor language, of course, and publishers like to read a book in its entirety before deciding to publish it in their own language.
In the Dutch-speaking world ‘Ironhead’ won the Archeon Thea Beckman Prize for best historical novel, as well as two prizes voted for by young readers themselves: the Young Beckman Prize and the Kleine Cervantes. Let’s hope many more translations and foreign prizes are to follow!