Sunday, January 02, 2011
Book review: The True Story of Hansel and Gretel, Louise Murphy
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.