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Monday, December 8, 2008

Review: Hitler and Mars Bars by Dianne Ascroft

Title: Hitler and Mars Bars
Author: Dianne Ascroft
Pages: 340
Publisher: Trafford Publishing (March 20, 2008)
Genre: Fiction

Edition: Standard paperback ~ Many thanks to the author for sending me a copy to review!

Take a moment to stop by my author interview of Dianne here!

Perfect for : Personal reading, book club read, possible History class read?

In a nutshell: This book was very eye-opening for me. I've never considered the after-affects of war, and it's children: the destruction, hunger, military presence, loss of friends and family, etc. This wonderful book follows the life of 4 year-old Erich for 10 years as he is affected by World War II, and as he is transported to Ireland with his 3 year-old brother Hans as part of Operation Shamrock. The brothers are separated and re-united, then separated again, as they go from one foster home to another. Rather than focusing on the war itself, this book focuses on the children affected by the war, and the Irish families who worked so hard to foster the children until they could be returned to their families. I highly recommend this book. Using a preface, the author does a wonderful job of giving the reader some basic information regarding Operation Shamrock, including the fact that the planned duration of Operation Shamrock was three years, over 400 children between the ages of three and fifteen were helped, and that approximately fifty children remained in Ireland.

From Amazon:
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.

An Excerpt From Hitler and Mars Bars, linked from Dianne Ascroft's site:

The Gingerbread House: 1

Bredenscheid, near Hattingen, Germany
March 1945

“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.

Copyright © 2008 by Dianne Ascroft
. All rights reserved.

My Review:
This book is filled with vibrant examples of daily life in both Germany (early in the book) and Ireland, including both positive and negative aspects faced by the children helped by Operation Shamrock.

The story centers around Erich, a boy of four who is living in a children's home because his father has died and his mother must work at the local train station and there is no one else to watch him and his brother. The area is heavily bombed, and Erich doesn't hear from his mother for over a year, at which time Operation Shamrock has been started to take some of the malnourished German children to neighboring Ireland where families are waiting to foster them until they are returned to their families.

Erich loves the attention he receives from the adults within some of the families, and turns into a rival with some of the children, fighting for the love and stability his little person so desperately needs.

Facing the challenge of learning a new language, he is seen as different by other children, some of whom embrace him and become friends, while others taunt him and make him feel like an outsider.

Characters: The author has done a great job of creating Erich and helping the reader to see and understand what he went through during and after World War II, as many parts of Germany had to be rebuilt. My favorite characters were Daddy Davy and Aunt Elsie, who seemed to have the perfect environment and personalities to help Erich. With many well-written characters, it is easy to love or hate them, depending on their role and interactions with Erich.

Story-Line: This is a wonderfully-written fictionalization of a boy who was helped by the Red Cross through their Operation Shamrock, which I had never heard of prior to reading this book.

Readability: I found the book easy to read and very informative to what daily life was like in Germany and Ireland during and after World War II.

Overall: A very thought-provoking story that really touched the "Mom" portion of my heart. This book helped me to look at war, or rather the impact of war on families and children, in a different light, and to see that there are wonderful people willing to open their hearts and homes to help those in need. I really enjoyed reading this book, and discussing it with friends and family. It would be a great book club read as there are plenty of aspects to discuss.

About the Author: (from the publisher's site)
Dianne Ascroft was born in Toronto, Canada in 1960 and earned a B.A. in History at the University of Windsor in 1984. She has lived in Scotland and Northern Ireland since moving to Britain in 1990.

She has written historical articles and music personality interviews and profiles for Irish and Canadian newspapers and magazines and was a contributor to an Irish local history book, The Brookeborough Story. Her competition entry, The Contest, was shortlisted and broadcast on Downtown Radio, Belfast in their 1998 Short Story Contest.

She lives with her husband and pets - a pair of cats and a pair of goats - on a small farm in County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland. Curiosity about the past has inspired her long-standing interest in history and genealogy and her love of historical fiction. Her hobbies also include Celtic music, quilting, hiking and travel. She is a member of the Historical Novel Society.

Visit her at www.geocities.com/dianne_ascroft

If you have reviewed this book and would like me to add a link to your review, please leave me a comment!

To read additional reviews, visit these sites:
Diary of an Eccentric

See my author interview with Dianne here.


Fyrefly said...

Good to hear that you liked it! I've got a review/interview for this one coming up later this week.

HiHoOhio said...

Wow, this looks so interesting, thanks for the review and information!

Ali said...

This looks like a fascinating book, thanks for the review!

Anna said...

Great review! I thought this book was great. I added the link to your review to mine, which is here.

Diary of an Eccentric

Serena said...

I'm happy to see that you liked this one as well. definitely going on my war challenge list.

Anonymous said...

This sounds really good Wendi. You make a good point when you say that you don't know much about the after effects of war. I don't think I have really read much that has talked explicitly about the subject the way that you have detailed here.

Anna said...

Wendi, would it be okay to post a link to this review on our WWII reading challenge blog? It would be located on the book reviews page.

Diary of an Eccentric

Anna said...

Thanks, Wendi! I posted the link here:


Diary of an Eccentric

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