The True Story of Hansel and Gretel: a novel of war and survival by Louise Murphy
It’s nearly the end of the Nazi occupation of Poland and a father must abandon his children near a forest so that they can search for safety from the Germans. On the journey they meet Magda, the so-called village witch. Magda is willing to risk her life and others to keep the children safe.
“The wheel turns. Blue above, green below, we wonder 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 Magna. I am the witch.”
Hansel and Gretel has always been a favorite fairy tale since childhood. It was most definitely one of the scariest. The way the author has taken the fairy tale, re-imagined it, and paired it with the evil nightmare of WWII is fascinating. The story feels so authentic. It’s incredible to me how the author has a way of keeping to the original story of Hansel and Gretel throughout, consistently hovering around elements true to the original fairy tale.
The story itself is dark and twisted and highlights the true evil doing against the Jewish, Gypsies, and dissidents during WWII. It was nothing like what I expected. I had an idea of the plot, but there’s so much more to the story. Parts of the story were so hard to get through, but I loved the characters especially Magda, Nelka, Telek, Hansel and Gretel. Magna was surely my most prized character. The beautiful prose and specific elements reminded me of The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden, which is one of my favorite books of 2017.
There are discussion questions and an interview with the author at the conclusion which I thoroughly enjoyed. I’m not sure why it’s listed as having 320 pages. My book has 297 plus a few more for interview and discussion.
This book is going down on my favorites list for 2017 and right now is number #1. I’m glad I picked it up.
From Goodreads: 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, Louise Murphy’s haunting novel of journey and survival, of redemption and memory, powerfully depicts how war is experienced by families and especially by children. The True Story of Hansel and Gretal tells a resonant, riveting story.
About the author
Born in 1943 in Bowling Green, Kentucky, Louise Murphy began writing stories when she was five years old. An avid reader and prolific writer, she attended the University of Kentucky and taught English to middle-school students in Newark, Delaware, before moving to California in 1968. There, she raised her two children and received a Master of Arts degree in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University, where she taught for five years. She later taught novel writing at Acalanes Adult Education in Lafayette, California.
Murphy is the winner of a Writer’s Digest award for formal poetry. In 2003, she was awarded the Shaunt Basmajian Chapbook Award for her chapbook, Pilgrimage. Her writing and poetry has been published in numerous journals and magazines.
She lives in northern California, where she is working on another novel. Besides reading and writing, she enjoys playing the flute, opera, and classical music.
Other books by Louise Murphy: