‘DEAR CHILD‘ – (Translated from the German by Jamie Bulloch)
Lena’s life and that of her two children follows the rules set by their captor, the father: Meals, bathroom visits, study time are strictly scheduled and meticulously observed. He protects his family from the dangers lurking in the outside world and makes sure that his children will always have a mother to look after them.
One day Lena manages to flee – but the nightmare continues. It seems as if her tormentor wants to get back what belongs to him. And then there is the question whether she really is the woman called ‘Lena’, who disappeared without a trace 14 years ago.
The police and Lena’s family are all desperately trying to piece together a puzzle which doesn’t quite seem to fit.
At the age of twenty-four she became chief editor at a film production company in Munich.
Since the birth of her son, Romy has been working as a freelancer in TV.
Dear Child is her English translation thriller debut.
Romy lives with her family in a remote house in the woods near Stuttgart.
“I have no fear of failure. I like to test myself and see how far I get. If there are any limits to what I can do then I’m the one who sets them.”
STUDENT, 23, MISSING IN MUNICH
“Munich (LR) – The Munich police are searching for clues relating to the whereabouts of Lena Beck, 23, from Munich-Haidhausen. According to eyewitnesses, the student was at a party on Tuesday night in the Maxvorstadt district until around 5am. On the way home she telephoned a friend. Her mobile phone has been switched off ever since. A police search of Munich on Friday produced no leads. Lena Beck is 1.65 metres tall, petite, and has blonde, shoulder-length hair. She was last seen wearing a silver top, black jeans, black boots and a dark blue coat.”
“No,” I say. “We know how everything works. We have our own rules, you see. It’s just that Mama forgets them sometimes. But luckily she’s got us, we remind her of them.”
“Love, it’s like happiness. A very warm feeling that makes you laugh for no real reason, even though nobody’s told a joke.”
“He abducted me to give his children another mother.”
“Why didn’t you fight back?” I asked, because I was too stupid, or just too tired, not yet clear-headed, having been jolted out of my sleep when I heard Kirsten come crashing into the apartment. Because I’d been sleeping like everyone else, while Kirsten was attacked in a rear courtyard. Kirsten turned her ashen, unfamiliar looking face to me and said, “Because at that moment, I was dead. I didn’t have a body anymore. No arms to thrash about with. No legs to kick him with. And my mind was elsewhere.”
“I don’t know how often I need to say this until she understands. There always has to be a favourite child you can rely on.”
“Matthias Beck is straining to breathe. It’s hard to watch this, but maybe that’s how it is. Love. It’s love. No matter how sick, distorted and misunderstood, it’s still love. Love that spurs us on. That turns us into monsters, each in our own way.”
“A woman held captive finally escapes – But can she ever really get away?”
I am usually quite an unemotional person when it comes to reading books or watching films, which I know are completely fictional. However, this is the third or fourth book in as many weeks, where I have almost been moved to tears and have felt super invested in the characters and highly emotional about the storyline. I think I need a short break from stories of abuse, after all, how many tissues can a girl get through!! Definitely another 5 star rating and a place on my ‘favourites’ shelf for this one!
Having said that, I wouldn’t have missed the chance to read this one for the world. A book which drew me in completely, left me desperate to escape its clutches yet needing to know that things were going to turn out okay in the end, and then spat me out when it was done with me, leaving me a shaken wreck!
The translation of this book from its native German into English, is skilled and totally seamless, making the dialogue and narrative authentic, moving, rich in atmosphere, totally immersive and very fluid.
This is a dark and downright scary story, told in short, meaningful chapters, from three different perspectives and through three pairs of eyes; those of Matthias who is Lena’s father, Hannah who is Lena’s daughter, and Lena (Jasmine) herself. Eventually Jasmine is telling parts of her story to Lena, whom she never even knew! A little unconventional maybe, but it worked really well and all those connections become clear almost as soon as you begin reading!
Looking back, my reading journey actually moves along at a fair pace, a nice way of saying that I just couldn’t turn the pages fast enough! From its explosive, scene-setting prologue, which drew me in immediately; through the multi-layered, well constructed and intense storyline, with an added thriller element which only heightened the suspense; to an ending which has just a hint of future promise, but unfortunately, with no silver lining in sight for this cloud just yet!
A study rich in human behaviour, there are so many social and moral issues touched upon to varying degrees and with so many subtle twists and turns, both in the storyline itself, and also in the psyche and mental well-being of the characters. The darker side of love and obsession and the trauma of minds bent and twisted beyond recognition. My overall feeling whilst reading underwent several gut wrenching changes; from gripping to disturbing, compelling to desperate, suspenseful with just a faint glimmer of humanity and light at the end of the tunnel, but all with that over-riding sense of outrage and of being completely emotionally drained and yes – heartbroken!
The narrative and dialogue, which dealt with so many difficult issues, was written with great authority, excellent perception and total confidence. The attention to detail was equally as impressive, with many subtle nuances in the narrative and dialogue, which kept me on my toes. Hannah may have been prone to flights of fancy and a vivid imagination, and with such highly charged narrative, it was sometimes almost impossible to detect whether much of what she was saying, was fiction, fact, or fact as she believed it to be. The writing was skilled, observationally astute, visually descriptive and, so it seemed to me, totally intuitive.
I was truly invested in all the characters and relationships, and was captivated by author Romy Hausmann’s exploration of the individual psychology behind each traumatic event:-
That first and fatal mistake in judgement by one fickle girl, who thinks that she can manipulate a more seasoned and experienced male adversary, only to find to her cost that she can’t, despite the fact that she does try above and beyond most normal people’s endurances to then meet the demands and expectations of both him and her young family.
The angst and total desolation of the family of a missing person, for whom there can be no closure without knowing what happened to their loved one, be it good or bad.
The total mental horror and physical destruction of a person abducted and forced to take another’s name and live their life, then to discover that you are only one in a long line of previous ‘another’s’! The lifelong horrors and feelings of misplaced guilt may never really heal, and whilst therapy may help with the PTSD, life will be lived on knife edge for some considerable time to come.
The destruction of a long-held friendship and breakdown in trust, between family and authority, so horrendous and unforgiving that the rift can never be truly reconciled.
The abject depravity of one individual, whose view was so distorted and mind so deranged at having lost one family with such futility, deciding that it is never going to happen again, no matter what the cost.
And finally, the two young people central to the whole storyline, who have suffered the most. My heart was broken for their shattered lives as they knew them. To them it must have seemed as though the very people who were purportedly there to help them, were the ones who were ripping the heart out of their family as they knew it. Everything happening in their young lives was perfectly normal to children who had never seen the outside world, only in their imagination. Their journey of recovery will be long, terrifying and traumatic, and who knows what grudges will fixate in those educated but unworldly, vulnerable minds, which will pursue and engulf them for the rest of their lives.
Personal endings and futures, which although they may not be final with no loose ends, feel so right and appropriate, with just that spark of hope.
A brilliant debut translated novel, full of heart and feeling, Romy and Jamie make a fantastic team.
Long may they keep collaborating on those wonderful storylines, which take me on such a unique and personal journey.
A complimentary review download of this book, was kindly made available by:
Flatiron Books and NetGalley
Any thoughts or comments are my own personal opinion and I am in no way being monetarily compensated for this, or any other article which promotes this book or its author.
I personally do not always agree with ‘rating’ a book, as the overall experience is all a matter of personal taste, which varies from reader to reader.
However some review sites do demand a rating value, so when this review is posted to such a site, it will attract 5 out of 5 stars and a place on my Goodreads ‘favourites’ shelf.