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Hannah & Emil by Belinda Castles
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Hannah & Emil (edition 2012)

by Belinda Castles

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421,664,912 (3.5)None
Member:shelleyraec
Title:Hannah & Emil
Authors:Belinda Castles
Info:Crows Nest, N.S.W. : Allen & Unwin, 2012.
Collections:Your library
Rating:***1/2
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Hannah & Emil by Belinda Castles

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This was an enjoyable read and made all the more so because it was based on the life of real people and described events in history that really happened and enabled me to feel a part of them. The book covers the period 1902-1972 and is the story of Hannah a Russian Jew and Emil a German veteran of the first war It is told alternately in both their voices. They meet in Brussels after Emil has escaped from Germany following the killing of his father. They do make a life together in England for three years before Emil is interned and sent away, ending up in Australia, and Hannah follows to the other side of the world. This was a good read, a story of real people living through difficult times in the world's history with their love for each other shining through. ( )
  kiwifortyniner | Mar 17, 2013 |
Hannah and Emil is a novel pieced together from real letters, diaries and family lore, interspersed with the vivid imagination of the author. Based on the lives of Belinda Castles' grandparents, it relates a remarkable story of courage, love, loss and longing.

Told in alternating first person and third person chapters, advancing the years from 1902 to 1972, the novel traces the remarkable story of Emil, a working class German forced to flee his homeland, leaving his family behind, as the Nazi party gained power, and Hannah, a middle class, Russian Jew in England whose social conscience and independent spirit led her through Europe as a journalist and interpreter. Their meeting in a Brussels cafe, sparked a love affair that transcended the political, religious and social strictures of the time.

Emil's story, as a German refuge from the Nazi party in Britain, is not one often explored in wartime fiction and I thought his forbearance of his fate was admirable. While I was vaguely aware that foreigners were interred for a period, I hadn't given it much thought and I wasn't aware that many were sent to camps in Australia. At least it seems they were treated reasonably well here, though conditions were still difficult and the enforced separations from loved ones tragic.

I admired Hannah's ambitious idealism and her strength of character. She was a woman ahead of her time, intelligent, brave and independent. My heart broke for her as her young German guests sung the anti-Jew tune, and Emil's son rejected her care as tainted. Left alone when Emil is taken, Hannah refuses to slide into despair and instead follows her lover to the other side of the world despite the risks.

The story is enhanced by so closely following the real path of Heinz and Fay. The smaller details of their lives may be creative fiction but their larger joys and agonies are truths that connect them as individuals with history.
Personally, I would have liked to have seen more of the early relationship between Hannah and Emil, essentially the pair meet and then the story jumps ahead three years where we find them living together in England. I imagine that those years would have been some of the most difficult and joyful for the couple and I think more detail about this period would have fully explained their bond, given the sacrifices they both must have had to make to be together.

I enjoyed Hannah and Emil, I found the historical details fascinating and the relationship to the authors family history gives it an additional layer of poignancy. This is a novel Castles can be proud of and a beautiful way to honour her remarkable grandparents. ( )
  shelleyraec | Nov 20, 2012 |
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Compelling, heart-breaking and life-affirming, this is a story of great love and courage in desperate times. Emil and Hannah live their lives amid the turmoil of 20th-century history. Emil, a German veteran of the Great War, has returned home to a disturbed nation.… (more)

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