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The Vanishing of Katharina Linden: A Novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, August 10, 2010

4.1 out of 5 stars 65 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Helen Grant on The Vanishing of Katharina Linden

I’m often asked “What inspired you to write The Vanishing of Katharina Linden?” I never get tired of this particular question, because it’s a subject that lies very close to my heart. The book was inspired by the little town of Bad Münstereifel in Germany. It’s the setting of The Vanishing of Katharina Linden, and it’s not a fictional place-–it’s a real town, and we lived there for seven wonderful years.

When we moved to Bad Münstereifel in 2001 my husband was anxious that I would be bored. “You can walk from one end of the town to the other in about two minutes,” he said. Actually I found Bad Münstereifel the most fascinating place. It is like stepping into the past. There are cobbled streets and old half-timbered houses, beautiful old churches and creepy castles. I’ve always loved folk tales and legends, and Bad Münstereifel has lots of those. The stories which Herr Schiller tells to Pia (the heroine) in the book are all genuine Bad Münstereifel folk tales. They were collected and published around 1910 by a local priest called Father Krause. I came across some of the stories in anthologies and went to read the originals at a library in Düren. They were written in old-fashioned German and printed in the Gothic type that was very popular in Germany at that time, which made it extremely difficult to read them! But I persevered because it was such an amazing journey of discovery for me. There was one particular character who really stood out, and that was “Unshockable Hans”, the miller who was not afraid of anything, even witches and ghosts. There are a number of stories about him. He seemed to represent the spirit of the town–-forthright, God-fearing and intrepid. I wanted him to be a central character in my book. I liked the idea that the heroine, Pia, would be inspired by his bravery to do her own investigations into the disappearances in her home town.

People sometimes ask me about the ending of the book, as it isn’t entirely a happy one for Pia, given her family situation. I think this reflects my own feelings about having to leave Bad Münstereifel. I loved living there so much, but I always knew that one day we would have to leave. That sadness is part of my love for the town, and Pia’s too. I’d like to think that The Vanishing of Katharina Linden is a memorial to a wonderful place and time in my life.

(Photo © Gordon Grant and William Bond)

From Publishers Weekly

It may seem strange to describe Grant's debut as a charming horror novel, but there's a determined amiableness about the narrative that will appeal to readers who wouldn't typically be drawn to such subject matter. It's December 1998, and 10-year-old Pia Kolvenbach and her family are living happily in the quaint German town where her father grew up, until Pia's grandmother accidentally sets herself on fire and burns to death. A rumor erupts that her grandmother exploded, and, overnight, Pia becomes an outcast. Her only friend from then on is the most unpopular boy in her class, nicknamed StinkStefan. The two of them begin visiting an elderly man who entertains them with ghost stories from local folklore that Pia and StinkStefan hope might help them solve the decades-old mystery of a number of local girls who have gone missing. The story's richness isn't as much in the mystery plot as it is in the finely rendered background, where desperate parents strive to protect their children in an uncertain world, though the simplicity of the narration makes the novel feel lighter than probably intended. (Aug.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Series: AWARDS: ALA: Youth Media Award Winners 2011
  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Delacorte Press; 1 edition (August 10, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385344171
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385344173
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.2 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.5 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (65 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,033,879 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Sonja VINE VOICE on June 10, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I was drawn to this book because of the editorial reviews proclaiming it to be a "modern fairy tale" and that it would "make the Brothers Grimm jealous." I minored in folklore in college, so those topics were right up my alley. Now, I know that the Brothers Grimm are pretty dark, especially the original versions of their tales. But I guess I'd blocked that out or I thought this book would be toned down in the same way that modern versions of the Brothers Grimm fairy tales are toned down. So I was surprised with just how dark and sinister the tales were in this novel, and many tales are presented through the device of the book's narrator, Pia, going to an older citizen of the town, Herr Schiller, to hear "stories about the town's history" which are really folktales ala the Brothers Grimm (just to be clear, these are *not* the Brothers Grimm folktales but rather folktales in the same vein).

As one can gather from the title of the book, early on a girl by the name of Katharina Linden "vanishes" which leads Pia to wonder if something supernatural happened to Katharina like the things that happen in the stories Herr Schiller tells. Combining the dark stories of witches and demons exacting revenge on townspeople in the days of yore with the very real terror that the parents in the present day town were feeling, scared their child might be next, was quite effective. I tend to read before I go to sleep at night, and when I got to the end of this novel around midnight last night (I couldn't put it down until I finished), the prospect of going straight to sleep was ridiculous. I had to get out of bed, go downstairs and watch a sitcom for half an hour before sleep seemed possible.
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Format: Hardcover
"My life might have been different, had I not been known as the girl whose grandmother exploded."

- The Vanishing of Katharina Linden

Fairy tales, despite their intent, are not very well suited to children. Sending a tot off to sleep with images of witches throwing children into an oven, to make them the centerpiece of her dining room table, aren't really conducive to a good night's sleep.

And by good night's sleep I mean not waking up screaming in terror.

Helen Grant builds the framework of her delightful first novel around fairy tales, or rather local legends, surrounding the town of Bad Münstereifel, Germany. After the loss of her paternal grandmother to spontaneous combustion, young Pia Kolvenbach develops an image problem. Previously a happy girl with an adequate number of friends, after the unfortunate demise of her grandmother the local children do what children do best: they ostracize her to the point of complete misery.

Only a boy known as "StinkStefan" befriends her. Though it's essentially social suicide to hang out with Stefan, Pia doesn't have a whole lot of choice. Soon the two become friends, hanging out together and regularly visiting a charming elderly man, Herr Schiller, who regaled them with wild tales just frightening enough to be interesting.

The one person in Bad Münstereifel who wasn't fond of Herr Schiller was Herr Düster, the local eccentric who was everything Herr Schiller wasn't. Unfriendly and unkempt, he was universally reviled in the village. A virtual recluse, he spent most of his time hiding away in his tumble-down house, across the street from Herr Schiller.
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Format: Paperback
The freak accident that kills her grandmother makes Pia a social pariah, but it isn't the only strange thing that happens in the German town of Bad Münstereifel. When a fellow student disappears without a trace, Pia and her only friend investigate local legends and figures to discover what may have become of her. The Vanishing of Katharina Linden is good but never quite good enough--promising as it is, it's missing something. Despite initial appearances (and cover flap), this isn't so much a fairy tale retelling as it is a murder mystery with fairy tale trappings; those fantastic influences often create wonderful atmosphere and depth of setting, but (and this may be a SPOILER, so be warned) the final reveal is wholly mundane. Yet that mundane explanation lacks the substance and depth that the fairy tale aspects give the rest of the book, and so it dissipates their magic and replaces it with nothing much at all. The problem isn't either aspect outright, but rather the balance between them: would that the mundane aspects had more substance, or the fairy tale aspects lingered longer; without either, this promising book ends on a low note.

For it is a promising book. The setting is unusual and brilliantly realized, foreign and fantastic without becoming a caricature. Pia is a believable child narrator for better and worse, irritating sometimes but largely convincing, rooting the fantasy of her story within reality. The fairy tale influences are often brilliant, filtering Pia's view of Bad Münstereifel so that its residents become more vibrant, its shadows darker, its shapes stylized, its events echoed by legend, myth, and archetype.
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