Saturday, 12 August 2017

Book Review: THE WISH CHILD by Catherine Chidgey

Author: Catherine Chidgey
Random House UK
August 2017
My Rating:🌟🌟🌟🌟

I am the wish child, the future cast in water. I am the thrown coin, the blown candle; I am the fallen star.

Book Description (Goodreads):

Germany, 1939. Two children watch as their parents become immersed in the puzzling mechanisms of power. Siggi lives in the affluent ignorance of middle-class Berlin, her father a censor who excises prohibited words (‘promise’, ‘love’, ‘mercy’). Erich is an only child living a lush rural life, aware that he is shadowed by strange, unanswered questions.

Drawn together as Germany’s hope for a glorious future begins to collapse, the children find temporary refuge in an abandoned theatre amidst the rubble of Berlin. Outside, white bedsheets hang from windows; all over the city people are talking of surrender. The days Siggi and Erich spend together will shape the rest of their lives.

My musings:

Everyone who knows me knows that I am a sucker for WWII books, so when I saw The Wish Child on Netgalley I couldn’t resist! After closing the last page, I am not quite sure where to begin, because The Wish Child must be one of the strangest – or should I say most unusual – and haunting WWII books I have ever read! The entire book is being told in the surreal voice of a ghostly omniscient being which seems to follow the two main protagonists Erich and Siggi wherever they go, infiltrates their lives and commentates on the environment of the times. I spent the first half of the book wondering who this narrator could be, and how it is connected to the story. There are a few hints throughout the book, but its true identity is not revealed until the end, when it all falls into place perfectly. As in The Book Thief, where Death narrates the entire novel, this mysterious voice added an air of mystery to the story that made the book stand out for me.

Erich and Siggi are two innocent children caught up in the events of WWII, one growing up as the daughter of a censor in Berlin, the other on a rural property near Leipzig. Bit by bit, their innocence is shattered by the horrors of war, their lives connecting due to unexpected circumstances. By offering a child’s perspective of the propaganda and the general hype surrounding Hitler, the author catches a unique snapshot of this time in history not usually found in other novels of the genre.

“On these nights, when the planes were almost too remote to hear, Sieglinde wished she could climb into her parents’ bed. But this was not a gypsy camp; this was not a den of dogs.”

But Chidgey doesn’t stop there – she also includes small chapters of two ordinary German women’s conversations in the story, as well as the internal dialogue of a teacher taking a class of children on school excursions to Berlin’s factories, where items necessary to the war effort are being produced (and other things too – some very chilling moments here!). The constant danger of living under a dictatorship is beautifully demonstrated in the conversations between Frau Miller and Frau Müller, two factory workers, discussing daily life under Hitler as the war progresses. This may sound unusual, and it certainly was! I loved the way the author manages to capture the essence of the times in those snippets of conversation and musings in often hidden phrases and seemingly innocent words – it was so very cleverly done!

Due to our ghostly narrator, there is an era of mystique but also malice underlying the entire story, which often gave me goosebumps. There are many elements of a kind of magic realism, or symbolism, hidden amongst the pages that convey the full horror of the war, reflected in somewhat puzzling scenes in the book (like the shifting walls of Siggi’s apartment or the snippets of words she keeps hidden in her tin of treasures that take on a life of their own). Whilst most of the actions pertain to the two children’s lives and fates during those horrible war years, the author also catches a perfect snapshot of the general atmosphere and attitudes of many German people during that time, even those small doubts and acts of passive resistance that were often the only thing people felt safe to offer.

Frau Müller: There’s no need. I meant nothing. It means nothing.
Frau Miller: Everything means something.
Frau Müller: The lies that fall from the sky – they are not suitable reading. You should not be reading them. They should be burned.
Frau Miller: Quite right. Quite right. And I do. But sometimes one notices a sentence here and there as one is gathering them to burn.
Frau Müller: One should stop noticing.

This is a very difficult book to review, as it relies so much on its “unusual” elements! I really enjoyed it, although it was (expectedly) very disturbing at times, and had me asking many questions along the way, many of which still haunt me. The Wish Child would undoubtedly make a fantastic book club book, as everyone will have a different take on some of these elements, and I personally would love to be able to discuss them a bit more deeply. 


The Wish Child is a clever, multi-layered novel offering a very unique perspective of the events of WWII. Told by a ghostly omniscient narrator and including unusual elements not often found in other novels of the genre, the story takes on a haunting and thought-provoking air that stayed with me long after reading it and made it memorable for me. I thoroughly enjoyed The Wish Child and can fully recommend it to all lovers of historical fiction. 

Thank you to Netgalley and Random House UK - Vintage Publishing for the free electronic copy of this novel and for giving me the opportunity to provide an honest review.

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