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IRONHEAD, OR, ONCE A YOUNG LADY by Jean-Claude van Rijckeghem


by Jean-Claude van Rijckeghem ; translated by Kristen Gehrman

Pub Date: Feb. 15th, 2022
ISBN: 978-1-64614-048-0
Publisher: Levine Querido

In 1808, a teen from Ghent escapes into a new life.

Eighteen-year-old Constance is miserable. The eldest child of a clog maker–turned–unsuccessful-inventor, fiery Stance is desperate to escape an impoverished and restrictive home. But when Stance’s father forces a marriage to Lieven, his 45-year-old potential business partner, life gets even worse. After 15 weeks of nightly rape by Lieven, who hopes to father a son, Stance dresses in men’s clothes, borrows the identity of baker’s son Binus, a conscripted acquaintance, and becomes a soldier in Napoleon’s Fourteenth. Despite the grueling conditions, the freedom is intoxicating. But when younger brother Pier tracks Stance down in Paris on Lieven’s behalf, Stance must face a duel. After surviving being shot in the head—and triumphantly adopting the nickname Ironhead, Stance continues to overcome the odds, ultimately finding liberation and independence beyond family or army. Ironhead also has a dalliance with a woman and ultimately becomes an amputee with significant PTSD. First-person chapters switch between sardonic Ironhead and naïve Pier, who struggles with his dysfunctional family and being unable to attend school, and the siblings’ narratives become increasingly compelling as their stories intertwine. Vivid language in this novel translated from the Dutch doesn’t shy away from the grime of everyday life or the graphic violence of war, and the descriptions of wartime medical procedures are not for the faint of heart.

Vivid and brutal—but not without a sliver of hope.

(glossary) (Historical fiction. 14-18)