From 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 nave 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.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
The stepmother persuades the father to abandon the children in the forest, where they find shelter in the cottage of a witch, who locks them in a cage. It's the scariest of all fairy tales, and it's retold here with gripping realism as a Holocaust novel set in Poland near the end of World War II. Murphy brings the genocide history up close through the horrifying daily experience of 11-year-old Jewish Gretel and her younger brother, who save each other from the worst with the help of a few brave villagers. The Grimms' story is always there like a dark shadow intensifying the drama as the searing narrative transforms the old archetypes. The stepmother and the Romani witch are quiet heroes who sacrifice themselves to save the children, while their father is with the partisan army, desperate to find his family. The children may follow the trail home in the end, but the gruesome reality in the village and the forest prevents any sentimental uplift. The witch does land up in the oven, in a concentration camp. Hazel RochmanCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved