A Safe Conduct

Peter Vansittart, Author Peter Owen Publishers $45.95 (184p) ISBN 978-0-7206-0953-0
Germany in the 1490s--with its superstitious masses; its rampant corruption; and a ruling elite that used fear and religion to control the common folk--holds up a startling mirror to our own age in British novelist Vansittart's (The Story Teller) latest novel. Part allegory, part folk tale, the story is loosely inspired by the real-life heretic Hans Bohm, ``The Little Piper,'' who in 1476 urged people to share all things, to withhold taxes and to dethrone both pope and emperor. He was assassinated by German knights. The Hans we meet here, an apolitical, oafish shepherd boy but a charismatic storyteller, forms an odd alliance with Albrecht, a suave, youthful squire. Together, they lead a children's revolt. Their ragtag band of vagrants, thieves and dissidents erects a makeshift fortress of mud, stone and wood, calls it Troy and encamps in what eventually becomes a den of sexual freedom. In response, the Graf, a morose nobleman and suspected wife-murderer ensconced in his castle, sends soldiers to destroy the youths' fort. Tricked by an offer of safe conduct, Hans is hanged, but Albrecht, who is the Graf's illegitimate, unacknowledged son, plays his cards right and is embraced as heir. In luxuriant prose, Vansittart depicts this scenario with the fierce precision of a Durer engraving as he delineates a peasantry torn between a venal Church and pagan rituals, and a ruling class scornful of the Renaissance and the intellectual freedom it represents. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 01/01/1996
Release date: 01/01/1996
Genre: Fiction
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