His Name is David

Written by Jan Vantoortelboom
Review by Janice Derr

The novel opens during World War I, with a soldier bound to a post, about to be executed by a firing squad. The answers to who this man is, and how he ended up in such a desperate situation, slowly unfold in Jan Vantortelboom’s literary novel, His Name is David.

A horrible accident makes living in his parents’ home impossible for David. Looking for a chance to start over, he becomes a 6th-grade teacher at a boys’ school in a remote village. Unable to relate to his deeply religious neighbors, David isolates himself, preferring to take long solitary walks rather than socialize with those around him. He does make one exception for a shy, artistic student in his class, Marcus, whose cold and demanding father leaves the boy desperately searching for a positive male role model. The two begin a friendship, and David encourages Marcus to continue with his studies and pursue a life beyond his father’s farm. Marcus’s mother is grateful for the changes in her son’s life, and the more time David spends with her, the more he is drawn to her beauty and kindness. He starts to develop feelings for her, but before any can be acted on, a tragic event changes the course of his life forever.

For me, literary fiction can, at times, feel overwrought and forced. Vantortelboom’s slender novel, however, feels light and dreamy. He gives his characters the space to interact with the world around them and each other, and it is often what is left unsaid that proves to be most important to the story. A thoughtful and engaging read.