Tuesday, 1 October 2013

LAST TRAIN FROM KUMMERSDORF by Leslie Wilson. Reviewed by Ann Turnbull.

Germany in 1945 was a nation in defeat, broken by war and lost illusions.  This powerful novel, shortlisted for the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize in 2004, is a story of two 14 year olds trying to find their way home across their war-torn country.  Hanno is a young soldier drafted into the Home Guard.  He has just seen his twin brother killed in action.  Effi has no one left except her father, who is in the US Army.  They are without food, shelter or help.  All that keeps them going is the natural optimism of youth.

These two children tentatively reach out, form a bond, and experience the beginnings of love.  But both are damaged by their experiences and are unwilling, at first, to reveal to each other the extent of their pain.

They meet up with a group of refugees and continue their journey with them, dogged by hunger, exhaustion and constant danger.  All the refugees have experienced horrors.  And yet the narrative is far from grim.  There is humour and kindness in the interaction between people - and in the middle of the book there is a delightful, almost surreal section in which the refugees discover an abandoned train full of luxurious goodies intended for Nazi officials.

Hanno and Effi seem so real you feel you know them.  Their youthful love for each other is tender and heartbreaking in the midst of so much evil, and the climax of their story is perfectly judged and unsentimental.

It's rare to find a novel about World War II written from a German perspective, and for that reason, as well as its fine writing and gripping story, this book should be widely read.


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