Dear Child by Romy Hausmann is a hell of a ride. I almost put it down a quarter way through, because it’s a pretty sad premise. But I wanted to know what happened, so on I read. The power of a good story…
I’m glad I did. This thriller / mystery, translated from German, is quite good. The characters are rich, the pacing is tight, and it rings true; like this is the way people would act in real-life if they were thrust into a living nightmare.
The novel is structured so that a handful of characters tell the story in alternating turns. At first, it’s a bit hard to keep track, but this is intentional, and eventually lightbulbs come on.
This is the story of Lena, 23 when she went missing after a night out. For 13 years her mother and father, Matthias and Karin, have held out hope for her safe return, or at least the knowledge of what happened to her. But as the opening quote says –
Nothing is sadder than the death of an illusion.Arthur Koestler
It is a sad story, no doubt. While there’s some closure at the end, no one would say it has a happy ending.
Without giving away anything that isn’t on the book flap: Dear Child tells the story of a woman kidnapped and forced to live in a remote cabin in the woods. She gives birth to two children with her captor, Hannah and Jonathan, and they live together in a sick version of a charmed life. It’s a hellish existence for someone who knows of the real world, but the children don’t know anything but their tiny space. It’s heartbreaking to see how earnest and sweet they are.
Especially Hannah, my favorite character of all. She’s a tiny thing, 13 years old, but because her growth was stunted due to no sunshine or Vitamin D, she appears half her age. She’s super-smart and has a cat she calls Fräulein Tinky (such a cute name it kills me). She’s fierce and kind and loving and you just want her to survive and thrive.
The novel opens with an escape but mysteries ensue and it’s not clear what is real, what is imagined. Lena is in the hospital, but when her parents come to identify her, they don’t think she is their daughter. But Hannah is without a doubt their granddaughter: she looks exactly like a young Lena. How can this be? Enter Jasmine.
I won’t give you more than that. Are you thinking ‘who wants to read something so horrific and sad’? If so, I say don’t read it. But if you like well-written mysteries on the twisted side, then yes, give Romy Hausmann’s novel a try. She’s an excellent writer and storyteller and I look forward to reading more of her work.