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Gretel and the Dark by Eliza Granville

Gretel and the Dark

by Eliza Granville

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1921394,628 (3.37)14
A captivating and atmospheric historical novel about a young girl in Nazi Germany, a psychoanalyst in fin-de-si‚ecle Vienna, and the powerful mystery that links them together. In 1899 Vienna, celebrated psychoanalyst Josef Breuer is about to encounter his strangest case yet: a mysterious, beautiful woman who claims to have no name, no feelings-- to be, in fact, a machine. Years later, in Nazi-controlled Germany, Krysta plays alone while her papa works in the menacingly strange infirmary next door. She retreats into a world of fairy tales, unable to see the danger closing in around her.… (more)

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"Dark" is right there in the title, and this book is: half Holocaust story, half German fairy tale, layered and woven together.

Krysta is the stubborn daughter of a German doctor at Ravensbruck (though the camp isn't mentioned by name until near the end of the book); she found her mother's body after she committed suicide, and she discovers her father's dead body as well, after which she is thrown into the camp with the rest of the "animal-people." She escapes into the fairy tales her old housemaid/nanny, Greet, used to tell her, and spins stories for her friend Daniel as well.

Alternating with Krysta's story in Ravensbruck is the story of Josef Breuer in Vienna. His gardener and handyman Benjamin discovers a young woman - shorn, naked, beaten - and brings her to Josef, who struggles to find out where she comes from and misguidedly falls in love with her. But is Lilie - as he calls her - even real? Or is she an invention of his mind - or someone else's?


But fear has become too familiar of a companion to act as a spur for long. (2)

"God is a human invention." (Lilie to Josef, 26)

It suddenly occurred to Josef that being left to their own devices might bot be considered a misfortune for women, but rather a period of great liberation if such a gift could be accepted. He considered what it must be like to be judged on physical appearance, to be desired on looks alone - and then, with the passing of time, to be not. (160)

"Life is hard, but knowing about other people, other civilizations, other ways of living, other places - that's your escape route, a magical journey. Once you know about these things, no matter what happens, your mind can create stories to take you anywhere you want to go....Anywhere and any-when." (Erika to Krysta, 170)

"You didn't come back."
"Sometimes people don't." He looks away. "That's what happens here." (Krysta and Daniel, 170)

"The rich get richer while the poor get poorer. Fairness never comes into it." (Greet to Krysta, 201)

"Stories are fast travelers, always moving on....Oh yes, stories change with the wind and the tide and the moon. Half the time they're only plaited mist anyway, so they disappear altogether when daylight shines on them." (Greet to Krysta, 202)

"Our lives are spent seeking the person who will make us whole. We know it as bashert - that coming together with the lost half. They say when it happens the pair is lost in an amazement of love and friendship and intimacy. Afterwards one will not be out of the other's sight even for a moment." (Hanna to Krysta, 277)

If it was possible to create objects to meet one's deepest longings, then nobody would need God. (Josef, 288)

I try to do what I've always done - escape into that secret part of me where by magic or heroism I make things turn out differently, leaving behind an automaton, a machine with no feelings whatsoever - but today I can't. A door has closed. The ideas have gone. The words aren't there. Perhaps this is what happens when you invent stories inside stories that are themselves inside a fairy tale: they become horribly real. (Krysta, 327)

....the results of the hardships we suffered did not lessen when the world grew weary of our pain, our grief and fears, our strangeness; and the worse the memory, the stronger its stranglehold on the present. We survived. We went on. It seemed enough. (337)

It's an additional torture that this generation, too, should suffer for our memories; almost impossible to find the point of balance between burdening them with the vile details and ensuring the truth is never forgotten. (339)
  JennyArch | Mar 19, 2016 |
Full review to follow: Some readers have classified this book as YA. It is NOT, I repeat, is NOT suitable for young readers. It is extremely dark and deals with some very disturbing adult themes. But riveting and haunting too. ( )
  tashlyn88 | Feb 5, 2016 |
I thought this book was pretty much okay, a 3 star book until I got to the ending. The ending bumped it up. This is one of those books that are worth reading until the last page. So, so good. There is some gruesomeness in the book (But it takes place in WWII so I think that's to be expected), and some of it is hard to read, but overall it is one that will keep you thinking and you'll blink at the end and wonder what you had just read. I definitely recommend this book. 4.5 out of 5 stars. Brilliant. ( )
  Beammey | Jan 23, 2016 |
This is a truly terrible book. I struggled to the end but only because it was for my reading group. It's badly written, confusing and pointless. A true example of how "literary" fiction is required to be beyond the demands of readability and making sense. ( )
  infjsarah | Jan 23, 2016 |
This beautiful novel by Eliza Granville blends historical fiction, magical realism, and fairy tales to tell the story of a young girl's experience of the Holocaust. I, like some other reviewers, had some trouble getting into it at the beginning, but it was well worth the effort, and once I got over the hump I found myself completely unable to put it down. Granville does a beautiful job leaving the reader trying to figure out how the story will come together, and balancing what feels like a mystery with the bleakness of the scenes of the horrors of the concentration camp, which are all the more stirring because they are shown through the eyes of a child. A truly excellent novel. ( )
  pursuitofsanity | Jan 13, 2016 |
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