The True Story of Hansel and Gretel

( 86 )

Overview

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. ...

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Overview

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.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times
… one might expect a diminished sense of reality in Murphy's novel, but that is never the case. … Murphy also captures the polarity of good and evil in such times. As one character says (and one suspects that Auerbach might agree): ''Every Pole who isn't a devil is an angel.'' — Neil Gordon
Publishers Weekly
A provocative transformation of the classic fairy tale into a haunting survival story set in Poland during WWII, Murphy's second novel (after The Sea Within) is darkly enchanting. Two Jewish children, a girl of 11 and her seven-year-old brother, are left to wander the woods after their father and stepmother are forced to abandon them, frantically begging them never to say their Jewish names, but to identify themselves as Hansel and Gretel. In an imaginative reversal of the original tale, they encounter a small woman named Magda, known as a "witch" by villagers, who risks her life in harboring them. The story alternates between the children's nightmarish adventures, and their parents' struggle for survival and hope for a safe reunion. This mirror image of the fairy tale is deliberately disorienting, as Murphy describes the horrors of the outside world compared with the haven inside Magda's hut, and the fear and anguish of the other people who conspire to save the children and protect their own families, too. The na ve siblings are only half-conscious of much of this, though they are perfectly aware of their peril should they be discovered. The graphic details-the physical symptoms of near starvation, the infestations of lice, the effects of bitter cold-make it plain that this is the grimmest kind of fable. Eventually, the Nazis indulge in wholesale slaughter, and the children barely survive, hiding and on the run. No reader who picks up this inspiring novel will put it down until the final pages, in which redemption is not a fairy tale ending but a heartening message of hope. (Aug.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
KLIATT
Using the framework of the famous fairy tale, this novel set in Poland during WW II tells of a Jewish brother and sister set out in a forest by their father and stepmother who feel their best chance for survival is to be rescued by villagers. They are told to forget their real names and use the names Hansel and Gretel. They are taken in by Magda, an old woman who is called a witch by the villagers because she lives alone in the forest and knows herbal medicine. The father and stepmother join the partisans hiding in the woods. While elements of the simple fairy tale plot hold the story together, Murphy weaves many other layers together as well: the interaction of the SS officers with the villagers, the Russians and the Poles, the Jews and the Gentiles as well as the story of the relationship of the young brother and sister who alternately take charge but also take care of each other. Focusing on this microcosm of the war, Murphy brings its horrors to the reader in a personal and human way. KLIATT Codes: SA-Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2003, Penguin, 296p., Ages 15 to adult.
— Nola Theiss
Library Journal
A post-Holocaust literature is emerging that differs from its antecedents in that its chroniclers have not directly lived through the Holocaust themselves but have appropriated it in attempts to deepen our understanding of this perhaps most heinous episode in human history. Through such fictionalized accounts, this universalization of the Holocaust experience is now making it a part of every human's heritage, like it or not. Poet and novelist Murphy (The Sea Within) contributes to that legacy with a gripping tale that takes as its point of departure the story of Hansel and Gretel and stays remarkably close to the original version, with significant twists. Murphy's Hansel and Gretel are Jewish children abandoned by their father and stepmother deep in the Polish forest in a desperate attempt to hide them from the Nazis after their escape from the Bialystok ghetto. The children, to whom they give fairy-tale names to conceal their Jewishness, encounter Magda the "witch," as the nearby villagers call her, who takes them into her hut not to destroy but to shield them. This harrowing portrayal of the daily ordeal of Poles caught up in the German occupation-Gentiles as well as Jews-makes this a page-turner as well as a moving testament to the human will to do good and survive despite all odds. Highly recommended.-Edward Cone, New York Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A classic fairy tale is darkly reimagined in this brutally explicit Holocaust story by poet and second-novelist Murphy (The Sea Within, 1985). The eponymous protagonists are Polish Jews, the preadolescent daughter and seven-year-old son of a fugitive intellectual ironically nicknamed "the Mechanic," who survived by servicing German military vehicles. In the late stages of the war, the Mechanic and his second wife "rename" his children and send them into a forest, hoping they can elude both Nazi pursuers and advancing Russian troops. The children are taken in by an aged "witch," Magda, and reluctantly sheltered by the embattled residents of a nearby Polish village. At first juxtaposing the ordeals of the children and their father, Murphy gradually expands her novel’s scope, focusing in turn on an unwed pregnant woman (Nelka) and the redoubtable villager (Telek) who loves her; Magda’s brother, a sin-burdened priest who redeems himself by a heroic sacrifice; and German Major Frankel, a suave monster who "refreshes" himself with the transfused blood of Polish women and orchestrates the inspection of their children for the purposes of "assimilation into the German people." Murphy’s crisp prose renders the war’s terrors memorably, and she makes expert use of indigenous folklore and superstition—perhaps expressed most beautifully in "Gretel’s" declaration to "Hansel" that stars above them are "all the Jews that died . . . and went up in the air, and the stars are the stars that they wore on their coats." Comparisons to Jerzy Kosinski’s The Painted Bird are inevitable, but the relentlessly grim depiction of the children’s perilous odyssey, and especially the stalwart, mordant figure of Magda(whose eventual fate and transfiguration are stunningly described) link it even more closely with Davis Grubb’s Appalachian morality tale The Night of the Hunter. Only an unconvincing hopeful ending and elegiac coda dilute the power of Murphy’s unusually gripping fiction. Lyrical, haunting, unforgettable. Agent: Elizabeth Winick/McIntosh and Otis
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780142003077
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 7/29/2003
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 146,515
  • Product dimensions: 4.90 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Louise Murphy, winner of a Writers Digest Award for formal poetry, is the author of the novel The Sea Within and a book for children, My Garden. She is a regular contributor to numerous literary and poetry journals.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 86 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(48)

4 Star

(24)

3 Star

(8)

2 Star

(4)

1 Star

(2)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 87 Customer Reviews
  • Posted June 28, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Incredible

    I've read a lot of World War 2 novels, and this was one of the best. It was realistic, but at the same time it was borderline mystical. The writing was engrossing and lyrical, and the characters were spectacularly well-written. Despite the many heart-wrenching moments, the story was ultimately uplifting and moving.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 30, 2009

    As the holocaust is hard to forget, as is The True story of Hansel and Gretel. One of the best, if not the best i have read

    The theme of this story is a mixture of good vs. evil, survival and many more. From the beginning the book has situations that nobody would want to be in. During the holocaust, a familie of Jews are being chased by Nazis, for the fear of watching his kids die the parents let the kids off into the woods to fend for themselves. As you read this book you the plot thickens as these two kids, Hansel and Gretel meet strangers who hide and protect them as if they were their own. This story makes you feel, in great detail what was happening at this. You learn to care for these to kids as if you knew them personally. The story takes place in Poland and are taken care of by an old lady, Magda, in the forest. The children want to find their father and step mother who abandoned them into the forest. Throughout the story you hear what happens to the kids and to the parents. One thing you will not find in this book is one hero, but at least five. The thing I liked about the book is it kept making me think that the children were going to get caught by the Nazis or die because of the conditions they were under. This is a book that makes you feel angry, happy, and suspicious on who is trustworthy and great sadness. Believe me, your heart pumps all the way to they end

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 3, 2012

    This book is an amazing WWII novel! It's definitely not very che

    This book is an amazing WWII novel! It's definitely not very cheerful but the book's intensity is part of what kept me so intrigued. Murphy's style of writing is very descriptive yet easy to read. The characters are so developed and I felt really connected to each of them and their subplots. I would definitely recommend this novel!

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 9, 2012

    Fantastic book

    I could not put this down and i read it in 2 days. It reminded me why i love books and with the totally relevant topics (the holocaust AND fairy tales) this book is destined to be a new classic!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 29, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Very Disappointed

    After reading all the reviews the readers posted I was eager to read this book. I love old fairy tales and their history so I was thrilled to get my hands on this book. Well that was the end of my enthusiasm. The book started off okay, with Hansel and Gretal and how they meet the "witch" but then the book just jumps on on a history lesson about the war and the author is skipping around to people that you don't even know and you are left wondering about Hansel and Gretal. I couldn't follow the story because the characters (other than Hansel and Gretal) were not formed well and sometimes they all seemed to blend as one. I wanted to read about the children and the witch and instead I am left reading about Russians and Poles trying to hide behind enemy lines with a little village thrown in the middle. I had such high hopes for this book and I have to say it really let me down. I didn't even finish the last of it which is something that I hate to do but as I get older I feel there are too many good books to read to waste my time on poor ones.

    2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 8, 2013

    Wonderful

    This book defintely isn't what I expected by the title, I am so glad I took a leap of faith based on the reviews!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 22, 2013

    Highly recommend to any book lover of fiction that likes a twist on an old favorite.

    I started reading this book for book club and was a little worried I might not like it due to the expected WWII content, but I loved it! What a well written book! I loved how the author brought in Hansel and Gretel and the Witch and the whole story ultimately yet meshed it with the ongoing WWII drama that enfolded it. Highly recommend!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 20, 2012

    The real Hansel and Gretel?

    2 young Jewish children are left in the woods to care for themselves during WWll. They find a home with an old woman who they don't much care for in the beginning, but in the end she saves their lives. This story shows just one way children may have had to act in order to survive.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 21, 2012

    Engaging new view of a childhood favorite

    .

    1 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 15, 2013

    Great book

    So good

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 17, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    I had high hopes for this book, however, I'm unable to finish it

    I had high hopes for this book, however, I'm unable to finish it (the
    only reason I'm giving it a two and not a one is because I realize there
    may be potential. I'm just not willing to sift through the boredom in
    order to find it). The characters are dry, and the story is too simple
    for me.

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  • Posted May 28, 2012

    Louise Murphy has taken a classic fairy tale and expounded on t


    Louise Murphy has taken a classic fairy tale and expounded on the characters. I found myself sympathizing with the villains of my youth. Ms. Murphy’s graphic and poignant story telling paralleled the children’s book in a manner that is believable yet dark and haunting. “The True Story of Hansel and Gretel” epics the Holocaust just as it was – horrific with glimmers of kindness and hope.

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  • Posted April 12, 2012

    The author has done an amazing job with this book. I believe tha

    The author has done an amazing job with this book. I believe that even though it is a fiction novel, it should be required reading in high school, either for a world history class, or literature, to teach the awful nature of man’s inhumanity to man.

    Ms. Murphy researched for 3 years prior to writing the novel. She uses the old fairy-tale of Hansel and Gretel set in the woods of Poland during the time of the Holocaust. Ms. Murphy manages to tell both the actual physical struggle of the children and adults during this time, as well as show the evilness of the nature of those who were dedicated to the Nazi regime. Of course, it could be any other regime, and these things could happen today as well.

    Ms. Murphy’s writing flows so well from one paragraph to the next and one chapter to the next. Her characters are rich and full and the reader is able to connect with them very easily as real people. The relationship between Hansel and Gretel is so sweet. It is shown as, I believe, relationships can only be built during times of extreme distress.

    This book is very difficult reading, due to the graphic nature of the events. However, I believe that everyone 16 and over should read it.

    There is a saying that those who don’t know history are condemned to repeat it. I think that is true and reading this book will help prevent repeating this horror.

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  • Posted March 28, 2012

    If you’re looking for a light read, then this isn’t

    If you’re looking for a light read, then this isn’t the book for you. But if you’re looking for a well-written story, with intriguing characters, which leaves you questioning man’s inhumanity to man, then you’ll want to pick up this book.

    It’s a story about doing what it takes to survive, about the love between siblings, and it’s a story about finding hope amidst despair. It’s an interesting reimagining of the classic fairy tale, and it spares no punches with your emotions. If you want to face the realities of a harsh world, then you should pick up this book.

    Robert Downs
    Author of Falling Immortality: Casey Holden, Private Investigator

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 8, 2011

    Outstanding

    Read this book and loved it. Then I traveled to Poland and thought about the book while in the forests there. Came home and read the book again. If you love WWll history, you will be captivated by this book. It is wonderful.

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  • Posted December 16, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    A Thrilling and Highly recommended book

    "The True Story of Hansel and Gretel" was a great twist of the child fairy tale " Hansel and Gretel" and the history of the Holocaust. The author try's to show how no one was safe during the Holocaust. The story shows the Holocaust outside of the camps where, two children must take on new identities and leave their old lives behind. " The Step- Mother told me that I'm Hansel. But who was I before?" Through the whole story Hansel and Gretel lose there selves until they are just, " Hansel" and " Gretel." ( The Witch), in this story, unlike the fairy tale is a truly inspiring women, who gives wisdom to Hansel and Gretel. This characters name is Magda. Through the story Magda and the two children embark on many horrific scenes. All taking place in one village! In this small town not even the lives of the young are safe. For example the men of the village had received news of the Germans " . looking for children who are blonde and blue- eyed.. The mothers are told it's a medical examination." After the meeting they had drawn straws to see who would have to injure the children and after Telek was picked, he went off and hurt every "perfect" child so no one of youth was taken. Except for a baby. Also Hansel and Gretel are left to fend for themselves because even the poor old Magda was taken away due to her Gypsy blood. The story is a great pick but it does become very depressing because of the terrible scenes that had to happen due to the Holocaust. It includes a love story being tampered with, children abused, and many diluted mind's. Although the scenes are unfortunate the story will still entertain you.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 16, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    LOVED IT!!!!!

    I got this book for Christmas and didn't know what to expect. After reading the first chapter I was competely into the story. I'v read a few World War II books and this one was probably one of my favorites. I never knew the true story to Hansel and Gretel and now I'm proud to say that do. I would definitely recommend this book!!!

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  • Posted October 17, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Surprisingly good

    I was a little leery of buying this book because despite all the rave reviews I didn't think I was going to like a fairytale. This book was amazing!! I absolutely loved it! It makes you see the story of hansel and gretel in a whole new way. I highly recommend this book

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  • Posted August 25, 2009

    Break you heart - Outstanding

    Fantastic concept, touching story of siblings who are disconnected from their father during wartime...Great descriptive writing and you simply want to reach out and help this family find each other. Heart wrenching at times...and not 'pretty',,,but a most interesting look into the time in which it was set. Great Read!

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  • Posted March 27, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    The true story of Hansel and Gretel

    The true story of Hansel and Gretel is about the last four months of the possession of the Nazis in Poland. Two children Hansel and Gretel are left in a dark, creepy, cold forest by their father and stepmother to survive on their own. They were given other names so that the Nazis wouldn't know that they were both Jewish. They were taken by a old, cranky lady named Magda. She was going to take care of them and hide them from the Nazis. The genre of this book is historical event because it tells us how some Jewish children had to survive on their without their parents. The story takes place on the out skirts of Poland. The main characters are Hansel and Gretel, they have to do the best to survive on their own without the help of their parents. The book fulfills it's purpose because it gives us an idea how these people were treated and how much they suffered, no ones how much they suffered in the hands of Hitler. I loved this book in general because this topic really interests me so much. I've always been interested in the Nazi topic and i have so many questions on why did Hitler what he did to these people? Why did he hate this race so much? I really recommend this book, you will feel pathos for these children, it will make you cry, and most of all it will make you think about how much these people have suffered and this is just a little portion of it.

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