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The True Story of Hansel and Gretel: A Novel or War and Survival by Louise Murphy.

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Title: The True Story of Hansel and Gretel: A Novel or War and Survival.
Author: Louise Murphy.
Genre: Literature, fiction, WWII lit.
Country: U.S.
Language: English
Publication Date: 2003.
Summary: In the last months of the Nazi occupation of Poland, two children are left by their father and stepmother to find safety in a dense forest. Because their real names will reveal their Jewishness, they are renamed "Hansel" and "Gretel." They wander in the woods until they are taken in by Magda, an eccentric and stubborn old woman called "witch" by the nearby villagers. Magda is determined to save them, even as a German officer arrives in the village with his own plans for the children. Combining classic themes of fairy tales and war literature, the novel of journey and survival, of redemption and memory, powerfully depicts how war is experienced by families and especially by children.

My rating: 8/10.


♥ Then he pointed. "This is Poland. This is Germany. But the rest of it, look now, the rest of it is the world."

♥ Gretel couldn't think of an answer. She stared at the hut and saw another piece of bread and then another on the boards. "Why do you put bread on your house?"

"The birds feed on it."

"That's wasteful." Gretel frowned at her.

"Wasting a little shows you believe in tomorrow."

♥ "Then help us," the husband said. "In God's name."

"God packed up and left Poland in 1939."

♥ She hung her picture on the wall but didn't like to look at it. The blurry eyes and the pale face over the well-fed body made her uneasy.

"It's like that fat girl ate me up," she told Magda.

Magda thought for a long while, rocking as usual, and then she spoke. "Let her eat you up, Gretel. There are worse wolves than that waiting with sharp teeth. Let the child have you."

Gretel hated it, but she knew Magda was right, and she forced herself to stare at the picture until she could no longer tell if it was her or not. She let the fat child devour the child she had been. After all, there were no pictures left of herself at that age or at any age. She had no pictures of her house, or her mother, or farther, or the Stepmother.

The chair the fat girl stood beside, the lamp on the table with its shiny glass base, the carpet and the wall behind, and the physical fact of the child herself, this was what Gretel had for a past. She was uneasy, but she accepted it. Any picture was better than nothing.

♥ The German soldier suddenly sighed. It almost stopped the Mechanik. It was such a human thing, this soft, sad exhalation of air. The sound of a tired and homesick man who might be a normal man, sighing in his loneliness.

♥ She raised her eyes to the wall where three pictures hung, dust-covered but still staring out over the bare boards of the floor. On the left was Lenin.

"Beady-eyed bastard," she whispered. "It's Lenin on the left. The one with all the hair is Stalin, on the right." A crucifix with Jesus on it hung between the two pictures.

"Jesus is hanging between two thieves like he always has," she muttered.

♥ He glanced at the dead men. They were meat now. Lithuanians maybe? Escaped Russian prisoners? Polish bandits? Even Jews, but probably not. The Jews had been killed already. It didn't matter. They were wolves. No. Wolves were innocent of the possibility of evil.

♥ Magda saw the blush and looked at Nelka. Magda had seen it coming, and it was good. Some would say that the girl's husband might come back from Siberia, or that he had been gone and possibly dead for too short a time, but a day during a war was like a month of real time. A month of war was a year, and Nelka needed someone to help her.

♥ The voice of the child reached to the tops of the trees and drowned out the mutter of the creek. The priest sat crying before the menorah, listening to a Christmas carol sung by a Jewish child driven into madness.

♥ He wondered who would find the bodies. He hoped it wasn't a child.

"And that's the difference between us - Poles and the Russians and Jews - that's the difference between us and the Nazis," the Russia said that night as they all drank vodka a farmer had given them. "We have to get drunk after we do such things. Drunkenness is a good sign. It means you still have some feelings. That's why the Russians are drunks. They feel too damn much." He passed out before midnight and they covered him tenderly with blankets.

"It was a Nazi idea to murder people for their skulls," the oldest Pole said, his face sweating from the homemade vodka. "But it took a Russian to think of what we did on the road."

"It's one of the other for Poland," sighed one of the men.

♥ "God didn't come down and kill us. I don't see God shooting children and priests. None of us met God beating up Jews and shoving them into railroad cars. This is men doing the murdering. Talk to men about their evil, kill the evil men, but pray to God. You can't expect God to come down and do out living for us. We have to do that ourselves."

♥ "Let's not debate who has suffered most. Anyone alive hasn't suffered that much, or they'd be dead," he said. "The real sufferers can't brag about their suffering anymore."

♥ "See the stars," Gretel said. "I know what they are."

"What are they?"

"All those stars in that big streak that goes over the whole sky? You see them? Those are all the Jews who've died. All of them died and went up in the air, and the stars are the stars that they wore in their coats. The stars on the coats come off when their souls float up and the stars live up in the sky forever."

Hansel stared at the mass of light in the Milky Way and shivered. "That's awful."

"No it isn't. It's lovely. They'll be there forever."

♥ It is finished. The tale is told truthfully, and truth is no heavier, no more beautiful than lies. Yet there is something that makes me love the truth, and that love made me wander and worry until the truth was given to you, like a gift. For this in the end is what we have. The love of something.

Wild ponies. A kiss salted by tears. The scent of raspberry syrup in a bottle. Oranges. Two lost children who come to your house in the dark forest.

There is much to love, and that love is what we are left with. When the bombs stop dropping, and the camps fall back to the earth and decay, and we are done killing each other, that is what we must hold. We can never let the world take our memories of love away, and if there are no memories, we must invent love all over again.

The wheel turns. Blue above, green below, we wander a long way, but love is what the cup of our soul contains when we leave the world and the flesh. This we will drink forever. I know. I am Magda. I am the witch.
Tags: 1940s in fiction, 2000s, 20th century in fiction, 21st century - fiction, 3rd-person narrative, american - fiction, faerie tales (retold), fiction, literature, my favourite books, parenthood (fiction), polish in fiction, political dissent (fiction), race (fiction), war lit, world war ii lit
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