When I Was a Little Boy

Written by Erich Kästner Horst Lemke (illus.)
Review by Elizabeth Hawksley

This is a welcome reprint of Erich Kästner’s 1957 childhood autobiography. Kästner, best known for his children’s classic Emil and the Detectives, explores his childhood in Dresden before World War I. His father was a master-saddler, his mother a self-employed hairdresser, and Erich was a much-loved only child from whom great things were expected. His world, now vanished, is wonderfully evoked: horses are everywhere, home lighting is paraffin lamps, and thrashings at school are commonplace. His mother, though a clever woman, had had little education and suffered from depression. Whenever she went missing, poor Erich, knowing she was suicidal, searched for her all night along the shores of the Elbe. I was shocked, but Erich himself seems to have taken it in his stride. He had a largely happy childhood, hiking with his mother in the countryside, or visiting friends and relations. It came to an abrupt end in August 1914 when they were on holiday. His parents seemed curiously politically unaware, and the call to mobilization came like a bolt from the blue. Erich was fifteen and his childhood was suddenly over. I enjoyed this book for its truth, its humour, and its evocative glimpse into a lost world.

(Ed. Note: To purchase this edition, see publisher’s site rather than Amazon.)