Sunday, January 02, 2011

Book review: The True Story of Hansel and Gretel, Louise Murphy

The True Story of Hansel and Gretel
The True Story of Hansel and Gretel

A brutal retelling of the Hansel and Gretel story, set in Poland in 1943. A young Jewish brother and sister are sent into the woods after their father and stepmother can no longer feed them. Since the girl looks German, they are told to use the names "Hansel" and "Gretel."

In the woods they meet Magda, a local witch and midwife, who takes them in. The siblings begin to flourish in her care, as much as they can on ration cards from the Nazis in the nearby village.

Meanwhile the Russians are pushing into Poland, and partisans and refugees slink through the woods. No one is safe.

The story follows the children through the war and its ravages, carefully weaving in the major images from the original fairy tale. But this is no children's story. Executions, rapes, mutilations are all vividly depicted. This is not a novel for the faint of heart.

Overall, I did like the book. It was compelling and hard to put down. My main disappointment is in not learning what became of some of the main characters, who disappeared into the woods, and out of the story. If you can tolerate the realistic cruelty, it's definitely worthwhile.


  1. It sounds intriguing but I think I'm too faint of heart for it.

  2. Oh I'm glad you liked it! It is a very unique point of view of a very well told point in history. I must have a thick skin because I would never think to caution people against graphic scenes. But you are correct - they are present. Then again, it is a story about WW2 so I would expect some of that going in. I gave this book to my mother-in-law for X-Mas since she is obsessed with all things WW2 and she said she read it in one sitting. I have your same regret - not knowing what happened to a certain set of characters - I guess that's the way it really was - some people you just lost track of and never did find out what became of them.

  3. Bumbles, I agree that I didn't really find it all that difficult to read even the more graphic parts, but like you, I have a pretty thick skin. And we'd expect to see brutality in a novel about World War 2. Even so, I thought a warning was worthwhile on general principle.

    You're right again that it's realistic to the time period that some people just disappeared.

    Glad your mother in law is enjoying the book. It really is a page-turner!