The True Story of Hansel and Gretel

Written by Louise Murphy
Review by Tracey Callison

On the side of the road and a dark and forbidding wood, a father abandons his two children with the words “Go into the woods. Run.” As their motorcycle speeds into the distance, their stepmother calls out “Hansel and Gretel… You are Hansel and Gretel. Remember now.” And thus begins a powerful and moving story about two children caught up in the events at the end of the Nazi occupation in Poland during the Second World War. The children (whose real names are never used, as that would reveal their Jewishness) find their way through the woods to the house of Magda, a solitary and eccentric woman who lives outside a small village in the woods. They are uneasily assimilated until a Nazi officer arrives with his own plans for the children of the village. Hansel and Gretel’s parents, meanwhile, find themselves involved in a small group of resistance fighters who terrorize collaborators.

Murphy has used the mythic structure of Hansel and Gretel to explore the consequences of war and its effects upon everyday people in a story that is compelling and heart-wrenching. The story contains both beauty and innocence, made all the more poignant by contrast with the ugliness that goes on around it. This is not an easy story to read. Few things written about this time period are, really. But it is true, as the best fiction is, and you will emerge from it changed and hopeful. Highly recommended.