Friday, May 13, 2011

The True Story of Hansel and Gretel

I'm not sure what intrigued me more with this book - the title or the cover.  Then when I found out it took place during WWII, I became even more intrigued.  Low and behold a colleague of mine ordered one, I stole it and read it, captivated the whole time. 

This story starts with the characters we are all familiar with from the tale, the father, step-mother and two children, a boy and girl and the witch.  However, the start of this book has these four trying to escape from the Nazi's.  When the motorcycle they stole breaks down, they end up separating, hoping they will each be able to survive if the children can just hide for a bit and the parents can find some means to come back for them.  Being Jewish children, we are made aware that they have Jewish names, so the parents encourage them to take on good German names - Hansel and Gretel.  They practice over and over saying their new German names so they don't get confused and accidentally reveal their identity.  And the witch?  She is a gypsy woman in a nearby village. 

Just as the folktale, the reader is lead to have a hatred for the stepmother.  And when the witch, Magda, is introduced, my preconceptions from childhood about the witch make me want to yell at the children to run the other way.  However, Murphy does a great job breaking the preconceived notions about her, and presents her in a way and made me question the tale after all.

This is a Holocaust book.  Knowing that, anyone experienced with the Holocaust literature knows that there are some difficult to read scenes.  Child friendly?  Absolutely not.  Probably appropriate for an older teen plus, someone who knows about the Holocaust beyond that it happened and read some other literature.  In the meantime, it is a beautiful book that gives a perspective not quite like anything I had read yet. 

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