At the age of eighteen Jan Montyn was learning how to cross a ravine hanging from a rope; at nineteen he was serving in the Baltic on a German minesweeper; by the time he was twenty he was enduring the mud, snow and slaughter of the trenches on the Eastern front; before he was twenty-one he had lived through the hell of the Allied bombing of Dresden, played cat-and-mouse with the Russian army in a last-ditch stand on the banks of the Oder, retreated across Germany into the arms of Allied forces, escaped from a POW camp and joined the Foreign Legion. A few years later he was at war again, in Korea.
An adventure story on the grandest scale? Rather one of horrific experience and of a sensitive mind driven to obliterate the terrors of the past by a further dose of the same medicine.
Coming from a childhood hidebound by the most rigid structures of Dutch Calvinism, the young Montyn had seen the German Occupation of Holland and the wider opportunities it offered as the dawn of a new freedom. He had joined the German navy in a spirit of bravado, only to find himself trapped in the final, agonising throes of Germany’s defeat in the Second World War and to live through the worst that men and machines can inflict on each other.
As an artist it affected him deeply, leaving him prey to hidden terrors and nightmares. From being a devotee of war he became a confirmed pacifist.
Written in collaboration with one of Holland’s leading young novelists, A Lamb to Slaughter is a deep and haunting book of exceptional skill, a catalogue of strife and bloodshed whose message is peace and hope. Through years of restless pain Jan Montyn has struggled to come to terms with his baptism of horror – through debauchery, madness and the catharsis of remembering, through his art and the healing balm of the Buddhist faith.
His story is that of a man haunted by battlefields, who now seeks them out, not as a participant but for the essential tranquility he finds amid the aftermath of war. His book is an unforgettable literary experience, a moving evocation of the human paradox that transcends its immediate theme to assail our deepest sensibilities.
“Sometimes a suit of heer vileness turns out to have an unexpectedly moral lining, something which, I suspect, applies to this rather unusual book. It’s always interesting to see how far people can take themselves and how they manage to bring themselves back. In Jan Montyn’s case it was quite a journey.”
“He has had quite astonishing adventures in many lands… The description of the British bombing of Dresden, the bombs continuing to fall long after the city and its people have been obliterated, is harrowing.”