Monday, September 29, 2008
Hitler and Mars Bar by Diane Ascroft
‘Hitler and Mars Bars’, winner of Trafford Publishing’s 2004 Book Deal Contest, is the moving story of a remarkable child and era. It’s the story of a German boy's journey to manhood through loss, loneliness, fear, uncertainty, love and hope in war-torn Germany and post-war rural Ireland.
Erich's first home is Goldschmidthaus, a Children's Home near Essen. He lives for visits with his beloved mother and longs for the day he will live with her. He is distraught when, after a heavy bombing raid, her visits abruptly cease.
After the war he finds himself, with hundreds of other German children, transported across Europe to escape the appalling conditions in their homeland. Operation Shamrock brings Erich and his brother, Hans, to a new life in Ireland but with different families.
During the next few years Erich experiences the best and worst of Irish life. Living in a string of foster families, he finds love and acceptance in some and indifference and brutality in others. At Daddy Davy's he finds a loving home and is re-united with his brother. But his brief taste of happiness is dashed by circumstances he cannot control.
This is the story of a German boy growing up alone in Ireland. He dreams of finding his mother. He yearns for a family who will love and keep him forever. He learns his brother is his ally not his rival. Plucky and resilient he surmounts the challenges his ever changing world presents.
Set in Germany's industrialised Ruhr Valley during the Second World War and post-war rural Ireland this book evokes a little known episode in German and Irish history. It is a moving tale of a German child caught in war's vicelike grip and flung into a new land to grow and forge a new life.
"It's a riveting story...As a novel it is extraordinarily well researched.... Beautifully written with a strong human story running through it..."
Brian D'Arcy, BBC broadcaster, Sunday World columnist, author, journalist
"An endearing story...Ascroft is superb in telling the story from Erich's point of view...The story is both vivid and moving..."
News Letter (Belfast) 21 June 2008
Ascroft is a Canadian writer, living in Britain. She has been freelance writing since 2002. Most of her writing focuses on history, arts/music and human interest stories. Her articles have been printed in Canadian and Irish newspapers and magazines including the Toronto Star, Mississauga News, Derry Journal, Banbridge Leader and Ireland’s Own magazine. ‘Hitler and Mars Bars’ is her first novel.
THE GINGERBREAD HOUSE
Bredenscheid, near Hattingen, Germany
“Wake up, Erich,” his mother said softly.
Leaning over him, she gently shook his shoulder. Shrugging away from her touch, he turned over in the narrow metal bed. She shook a bit harder and he opened his eyes, squinting at her silhouette in the moonlight.
“Mutti! You’re here!” Erich sat up and threw his arms around her neck.
“Yes. Get up, quickly now.”
“I knew you’d come!” he cried.
“Shh…don’t wake the other children,” she hushed him as she pulled back his thin, woollen blanket.
Shivering in the cold air, he jumped out of bed and scurried the few steps to the fireplace. The embers from the fire, set before bedtime, still glowed and occasionally crackled in the open grate. The waning fire radiated a modest heat and Erich savoured its warmth. The moon was low in the early evening sky, but its light streamed through the partly drawn curtains.
Erich’s mother pulled his white cotton nightshirt over his head and he hunched forward, shivering as cold draughts eddied around him. She quickly threaded his arms into his shirt. Erich squirmed against the prickly fabric which scratched at his back.
“It’s itchy! I don’t want to wear it!”
“You don’t have anything else so you must. Hurry now!” she urged him.
She pulled up his short brown trousers and leaned over to lace his boots. She pushed his arms into his ragged woollen coat, then pulled it firmly around him, noticing how baggy it was.
“You are so thin!” she exclaimed. “You must eat!”
“They don’t give us much. And it’s rotten! It makes me sick. And I’m so tired,” he complained.
The food shortage was severe as the war drew to an end. Everyone struggled to get enough to eat. Malnutrition and the poor quality of available food frequently made the children ill. To conserve energy they went to bed after their evening meal.
She frowned, looking at him. The waist of his trousers was loose and his bony knees seemed large on his thin legs.
Putting her arm around his shoulder, she ushered him out of the dormitory and down the stairs. At the foot of the stairs Erich stopped. “Mutti has come for me, T-T-Tante Gretchen!” he called excitedly to the staff member standing in the downstairs hall. Nodding to the woman as they passed, his mother said, “I will return him by breakfast. Good night.”
As they stepped out of the door the darkness enveloped them; no street lights lit their way. Their eyes adjusted to it as they walked briskly down the country lane. Erich held tightly to his mother’s hand. He pressed against her, almost tripping her in his eagerness to be close to her on this rare visit.
Title: Hitler and Mars Bars
Author: Dianne Ascroft
Format: Paperback, 340pp
Publisher: Trafford Publishing
Publication Date: March 2008
The book is available online from www.trafford.com/07-1955, www.amazon.com and other online retailers.