STAR OF PEACE by Jan de Hartog
Kirkus Star


Email this review


Firmly back on the track after the disaster of The Lamb's War (1980), de Hartog follows up The Trail of the Serpent with another taut WW II tale, shrewdly reworking a familiar, potent outline: a boatload of Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany, vainly seeking a political haven. The ship is the Dutch Star of Peace, an aging tub captained by the youthful-seeming Joris Kuiper, who has undertaken the transport (at a reasonable price) of 250 refugees (old men, women, children) from Hamburg to Uruguay. But the captain's motive is religious--in the de Hartog manner--rather than mercenary: after the death of his Jovian captain-father, Kuiper underwent a conversion, obeying his father's order to ""hoist the sail of the Cross"" over the family ship; and now he's convinced that he is serving God by saving Jews. So, as the journey begins, Kuiper is filled with uplifting purpose. Even the inept ship's doctor, forced to share the captain's cabin, is infected with this positive spirit: charming young Dr. Hendrik Richters, a ""radiantly bad physician"" who had to leave his native Amsterdam in professional disgrace, finds his doctoring shakily improving--thanks to the passengers' warmth and the discreet back-up of a sour, invaluable medic. (Also, Hendrik's philandering tendencies are somewhat curbed by the sharp-eyed vigilance of passenger spokeswoman Frau Goldstein.) And the entire ship is soon humming with cooperation, mutual support. Then, however, they arrive in Uruguay--where it's discovered that the Nazis provided purposely false documents for the ship: they're turned away. Eventually, indeed, it becomes clear that no country on the Atlantic coast of North or South America (including the US) will take them in. Furthermore, Kuiper is pressured to return the 250 to Germany--by Dutch diplomats, a Reformed Church pastor, the commodore of a Holland cruise ship. But Kuiper will not bend. . . or will he? Can he continue to rely on his father--""the Old Man""--as a model for moral behavior? When he pleads for an answer to his wife in Amsterdam, how can he know that she is a secret victim of disillusionment and exploitation? As in Trail of the Serpent, then, spiritual and psychological crises abound here--but never get in the way of the virtuoso plotting: love, deaths, near-mutiny, a bittersweet/triumphant finale. And, with a sea-lane background of vibrating engines, tootling pilots, and grey seas, this is again the strongest, most engrossing sort of parable--one that puts character and narrative ahead of preaching.

Pub Date: Jan. 11th, 1983
Publisher: Harper & Row