Posted by: Lisa Hill | January 9, 2013

Hannah and Emil (2012), by Belinda Castles

Hannah and Emil

This is only going to be a quick review – I’m on my way to a meet-up today with fellow bloggers Yvonne from Stumbling Through the Past and Janine from The Resident Judge of Port Phillip, and I have a train to catch…

I can’t remember where I heard about this book, maybe from my friend Marg at The Intrepid Reader? Or was it a publisher’s or bookseller’s promotional newsletter? Anyway, it’s an interesting choice for holiday reading, because on the one hand it’s crossover literary/commercial in style but on the other the topic is rather sombre.

In the introduction, Belinda Castles (who won the 2006 Vogel) says that it’s a fictionalisation of her grandparents’ lives.  It is the sad tale of a couple tossed about by events of the 20th century: Emil by his experiences in WW1, by his struggle against fascism in Germany,  and his escape to the UK, from where he was shipped to Australia when WW2 broke out on the infamous ship Dunera; Hannah by her enthusiasm for political reform in Britain and rejection by her community because she loves a German.

The book is a bit too long for itself, and is clumsy in parts.  There is an occasional pretension that goes awry

‘Mon cher Papa’, I whispered, ‘Je suis desolé que j’ai vous départis.  Vous et maman.’ (p160)

But overall, it makes a poignant romance from its elements, and brings home to readers that the victims of war can be spread far and wide.  Perhaps it may even make some readers more empathetic to the plight of refugees.

Peter Pierce in The Canberra Times thought more highly of it.

Author: Belinda Castles
Title: Hannah and Emil
Publisher: Allen and Unwin, 2012
ISBN: 9781741755169
Source: Kingston Library

Fishpond: Hannah and Emil


  1. I think if you are going to do a review of a book, it shouldn’t be rushed. Someone – in this case, Belinda Castles – has spent years of his/her life writing the book and it is all too easy to flippantly, casually and reductively assess it. And it also seems a bit disrespectful. That’s my two cents.


    • Sorry, Cath, I don’t always have time or inclination to do that. Whether Castles spent a long time on it or not, I can’t really think of much more to say about it than I have, and this mini-review is IMO equivalent to the ones we see in the broadsheet papers. However, what I should have done was to find another review to balance mine, and I have now done that and added it.


  2. I don’t think it was me, although it does sound like a book that would work for me!


    • LOL You will make Cath happy if you read and review it!


  3. […] grandmother who ran the family farm alone while her husband was interned.  Belinda Castle’s Hannah and Emil is a fictionalisation of a true story about one of ‘the Dunera Boys’ who had fled the […]


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