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The True Story of Hansel and Gretel (2003)

by Louise Murphy

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Showing 1-5 of 41 (next | show all)
The first two thirds of this book was very effective, but from the point at which Father Piotr makes his decision to help Nelka the book began to fall flat. Although the actions of the characters were fitting, the description was far too detailed, much of it was totally unnecessary, and the return to the ghetto so long it became interminable. The story would have been much more immediate and powerful if the editing was better. Also, the meeting in Bialystok with the SS Office was both incredibly CONVENIENT and the actions of the children were totally unbelievable. A let down after a decent book. ( )
  whymaggiemay | Sep 6, 2017 |
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

I really enjoyed this book. An incredible story of people trying to survive in Nazi occupied Poland ( )
  nx74defiant | Apr 30, 2017 |
I am truly at a loss for words as to how much I adored this book. Yes, it’s another book taking place during World War II but it can’t be defined by that. It is a story of love and compassion, putting your life at risk for others, and the struggle to survive. Unlike other holocaust books I’ve read, this one takes place in a small village in Poland and the surrounding woods and fields. A Jewish family escapes the ghetto and separates in order to try and survive. The children’s names are changed to Hansel and Gretel to try to be accepted if they are found, and of course they are…..by a little old Gypsy woman named Magda. The story follows their life with Magda as well as the life of their father and stepmother who left them at the edge of the woods so as not to be caught by the soldiers chasing them. There are other characters intertwined as well, and most will tug at your heart strings.

The writing is absolutely fabulous. There is one scene that takes place in a concentration camp, a horrific place, yet it was beautifully done. As odd as this will sound, I think it was my favorite part of the book. Obviously not because of what took place, but because of the way it was written – so full of love and compassion. It will stay with me for a long time.

Another piece that will stay with me is Greta’s description of the Milky Way……”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 on their coats. The stars on the coats come off when their souls float up and the stars live up in the sky forever.” And when disturbed by a shooting star falling, Hansel says ”They aren’t falling. They’re going down to meet other people that are going up.” Just beautiful.
( )
  lynnski723 | Dec 31, 2016 |
Update 12/3/2016 - Still a wonderful book to teach. Students love it.

Many writers make use of fairy tale motifs in their writing. Murphy isn't even the first writer to make use of such motifs in a tale set during the Holocaust. Yolen's Briar Rose pre dates this.
Murphy's tale has all the power of Yolen's novel.

Murphy does not deal totally with central characters; in fact, she does not reveal the true names of four of her central characters. Instead she uses labels that become names. Even Hansel and Gretel are like this, for the names are the equivalent of John and Jane Doe. This suits the tale better than actually giving the real names to the central characters. In many cultures and tales, names are power. Knowing someone's name gives a person power over the other. By keeping the key family unit nameless, not only is Murphy making a statement about the universality of the experience, at least for a segment of the population, but the absence of the names keeps the reader and, strangely, the Nazis from having power over the central characters. Labeled and nameless, Hansel, Gretel, and their adults become independent.

Murphy makes good use of the rather horrific tale by manipulating the motifs. She makes a major change to how the oven is used,who the step-mother is, among others. But she keeps the core of the tale the same. It still is that story about two siblings working together instead of at each other throats. Like the source tale, Murphy switches the children's roles halfway the book. In the original, for instance, Gretel is weaker than Hansel at the beginning of the tale, but stronger towards the end. She saves him as he saved her at the beginning of the tale. Murphy does not overlook this key element of the tale.

Murphy's use of the oven is particularly powerfully poignant, for the actual fairy tale of H&GM was suppressed, along with other Grimm tales, after WWII. In the case of H&G it was primary the element of the oven that lead to its suppression. Today, such fairy tales are considered to "dangerous" for children because of the violence and the threat.

Murphy's book with be placed in that category as well. Despite its fairy tale structure, it is a harsh book. It is a truth that bad things happen to good people, especially in a time of war. Murphy does not mince words when describing what occurred. Tough, hard, wrenching choices are made. In particular is Murphy's use of the Stepmother and the abandoning of the children. The original story, critics believe, deals with parents having to abandon children during a time of famine, a historic reality. In Murphy's book, the children are "abandoned" so the adults can led the Nazi's away. The family is in flight, the adults willing to give themselves up for the children. It is a believable, heart breaking, and wonderful twist on the original.

Murphy's book also raises questions about choices, sacrifice, and right and wrong. It is a wonderful, sad, stirring book. I'm glad I read it. ( )
  Chrisethier | Dec 3, 2016 |
I thought the book was overly graphic. It can be difficult to tell any Holocaust story, but I felt that there were horrific details included in this tale detracted from the story line. They did nothing to further the plot or develop a character. ( )
  asomers | Aug 7, 2016 |
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For Christopher, artist, friend, and son, and because we grew up together
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Caught between green earth and blue sky, only truth kept me sane, but now lies disturb my peace.
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Book description
In this extraordinary novel, a fairy tale is reimagined and a war story retold. It is the story of individuals striving to survive and a village trying to outlast a war. Magda the witch lives on the edge of Plaske, in a region of Eastern Poland that has been overrun first by Russians and now by Germans. Her family is an assortment of outsiders: her brother Piotr, a fallen priest, her great-niece Nelka, a beauty in love with an enigmatic woodsman, her dead grandmother, a Gypsy and an abortionisy. The villagers are terrorizerd by a small by vicious Nazi presence and weary at the end of a war that has brought them many conquerors and few saviors. Murphy unflinchingly present the war as a landscape of horrors, the village humiliated under the yoke of ruthless SS officers and by the necessities of survival under unbearable circumstances.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0142003077, Paperback)

The True Story of Hansel and Gretal
 
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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:19 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

"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." "A novel of journey and survival, of redemption and memory, The True Story of Hansel and Gretel depicts how war is experienced by families and especially by children."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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