In the last months of the Nazi occupation of Poland, two children are left by their father and stepmother to find safety in a dense forest. Because their real names will reveal their Jewishness, they are renamed "Hansel" and "Gretel." They wander in the woods until they are taken in by Magda, an eccentric and stubborn old woman called "witch" by the nearby villagers. Magda is determined to save them, even as a German officer arrives in the village with his own plans for the children.
Combining classic themes of fairy tales and war literature, this haunting novel of journey and survival, of redemption and memory, powerfully depicts how war is experienced by families and especially by children, and tells a resonant, riveting story.
… one might expect a diminished sense of reality in Murphy's novel, but that is never the case. … Murphy also captures the polarity of good and evil in such times. As one character says (and one suspects that Auerbach might agree): ''Every Pole who isn't a devil is an angel.'' Neil Gordon