A Walk with Love and Death By Hans Koning

Beautiful little book on the fleeting nature of life, associations and freedom. Set during the French Peasant's rebellion of 1358, a young scholar and the daughter of a murdered aristocrat meet, fall in love and escape dangerous situations by aligning with different classes of society. Everything is fluid as there is little difference between noble or peasant, bandit or officer, Frenchman or Englishmen, life or death. There are dangers where ever one sets alliances and even being free of them brings its own risks. I picked this up because it was a favorite of both my parents and a book they discussed on their first date. There's beauty in the symmetry and the small details of life. English


This short novel, A Walk with Love and Death, is a love story, both elegant and beautiful, taking place in 1358, ten year after the great plague, what we now call the Black Death, and during the time of the French peasant uprising, which threw the entire northern part of France into chaos.

We are given a taste of the depth of this chaos and social upheaval right from the outset, when the first person narrator, a poor student by the name of Heron, who has recently been expelled from the University of Paris for writing a poem with erotic overtones, is nearly robbed and killed by a farmer along the road and then barely escapes torture at the hands of a band of brigands on the outskirts of a town.

He reflects on his violent, upside-down world, “There had been fighting and burning and plundering before, but what was happening in France now was different: there was no mercy, no ending to it, no idea behind it. Men were like birds with iron beaks, hammering and hammering away at the almost hopeless land. More than half the students were in theology colleges, but there was no Christianity left either.”

Indeed, there is no end to the violence. Continuing his travels on foot, Heron meets a young aristocratic woman by the name of Claudia and it is love at first sight. Ah, Cupid! Thus, we have the love story of a poor student and an aristocratic young girl, a girl forced to leave her home recently destroyed by a horde of bloodthirsty peasants.

There is a mythic quality to their love, an echo of pure, courtly love flowering in a land filled to the brim with violence and misery. Such is the novel’s contrast between light and dark.

Heron shares his reflections as his discovers more and more of young Claudia during the time they travel together. For example, here is a passage after Claudia at one point declares she wants his love to be pure love, a love not mingled with the physical: “Lying next to her in the ramshackle bed in the dark, with most of our cloths on, was more difficult: I was haunted by her image now and cursed all philosophers and the girls who live by them. But she had acquired a new power over me and I no longer felt just the older and the wiser one: I was aware of an intense need to please her and gain her respect.”

And here is another passage capturing Heron’s dreamy, romantic spirit: “The green hours when I was riding beside Claudia along the river at the tail end of a many-colored column and felt that nothing mattered in life, neither learning nor death, only this keen joy of being alive in one’s body totally without fear, acknowledging the beauty of attack: running toward a man in battle to kill him, falling on a woman in making love.”

I wouldn’t want to spoil the story by giving away more of the details. Much better to simply recommend this near perfect medieval tale of two lovers embracing each other and the beauty of the moment during one of the darkest periods in European history.


Dutch author Hans Koning, 1921 - 2007 English Companion read with A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century. English There are very few books I've read more than once. Life is short, and the TBR pile tall.

The one book I keep going back to every ten years or so is A Walk with Love and Death, by Hans Koning, a spare, elegant love story set in 1538 in France. I first read the novel in the spring of 1963.

In later years, I found it difficult to find copies of the novel. This was before the Net, and finding a copy of a particular out-of-print book meant stopping in at various used bookstores and searching the shelves, one bookstore at a time. I ordered it thought my small-town library, and a copy was sent to me from afar. I read it, loved it yet again, but could not bear to be parted from it. I was beginning to write myself, and Koning's spare style was something of a beacon for me. As soon as the Net made it possible, I found a copy. Now, I'm pleased to see, it has been reprinted.

A few weeks ago, having sent of the final changes to my soon-to-be-published novel (MISTRESS OF THE SUN), I took A Walk with Love and Death down off my shelf. It had been 44 years since I had first read it. Perhaps the author had a website, I thought. In no time, I found it, and through the contacts page, I was able to send him a letter, telling him how much I love this novel, and how much it has taught me about writing.

The email was bounced back. Hans Koning had died only months before. It brings tears to my eyes even now. I had missed my chance.

I have just finished yet another reading of A Walk with Love and Death. I still love this book. Such beautiful sentences! I'm going to quote from the opening lines, which I think set the tone beautifully for the bitter-sweetness of the story, and the elegance of the prose:

In the spring of that year, 1358, the peasants of northern France did not sow their fields any more.

I had succeeded in getting out of Paris just before sunset and walked to Saint-Denis in the twilight; I had found a room there to sleep and now was on the road again.

The sun was rising almost opposite me; a harsh light skimmed the empty fields. The war was in its twentieth year, but I was happy.


The ending: ah, I resist the obvious. English The paperback version of this book is only 167 pages, so is a pretty quick read. If you are somebody who prefers a thick spine with lots of characters and subplots, this isn't for you. However, if you are somebody who loves a great adventure story set against the backdrop of the medieval era without any additional fluff, you will want to read this book.

One of the things I truly loved about this tome was the fact that the author kept to his main character, weaving the plot solely around his adventure as he travels the French countryside to embark for England. Along the way, he falls in love - which always invites drama. I thought his handling of the relationship was incredibly well done within the context of the time period; in a sense, you do take a walk with love in the 14th century. Of course, the rest of the book's title cannot be ignored - a walk with death. There is this, too, within the context of a peasant's revolt, and handled just as realistically as the love part of the journey.

I think there were plenty of opportunities the author could have taken to bloat the narrative and thus add a greater page count, but I am incredibly thankful he didn't. I think this book really demonstrates the less is more concept. Beautifully well done! English

The third book in NewSouth's series bringing back into print all of Koning's fiction, A Walk with Love and Death is the story of Heron, a student in France, who decides to journey on foot to England during the plague year of 1358. His journey symbolizes freedom, as he turns his back on both the ruling oligarchy and the peasant armies forming all over Europe. He travels through a chaotic wasteland, where strange armies clash for unknown reasons, where the barren countryside is plagued by robbers and warlords. He meets death, destruction, and famine before finally finding Claudia, the daughter of a medieval lord. Heron's quest for freedom, stemming from a desire to create an ideal world out of the violently cruel one, leads him through despair and danger, before delivering him to love. A Walk with Love and Death

No me ha gustado nada. Demasiado minimalista y con una traducción en ocasiones cuestionable. English A brief but powerful novel from 1961 which is set in rebellion-ravaged 1358 northern France. The Peasant’s Rebellion sets the country ablaze and expelled student, Heron, decides to walk from Paris to Calais to ship to England. Amidst the chaos he meets Claudia, daughter of a noble killed by the peasants, and they become lovers trying to escape the violence before finally reaching a monastery just before the monks desert it as the Rebellion nears its end and retribution travels the land. All beautifully done English

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