A review of The Handkerchief Map by Kiri English-Hawke

Reviewed by Lorraine Dobbie

The Handkerchief Map
by Kiri English-Hawke
Glass House Books
Paperback: 90 pages, April 2, 2014, ISBN-13: 978-1922120861

This novella, in three vignettes in the form of letters, written by three young Europeans, simply and eloquently expresses their multiple viewpoints on the World War 2 conflict. The three characters, poignantly recount the turmoil of their own daily existence and their hopes for the future to recipients who they desperately need to believe are still surviving. These three ordinary young people are forced into extraordinary roles by the Nazi war machine.

Recently promoted from the Hitler Youth Movement to become a Nazi boy soldier, Franz writes to his Mother as he questions his loyalties to the Nazi regime.  He resents being an agent of a tyrannical aggressor. Helga writes to her friend Olga about her dislocation and desperation and her urgent need to continue as a partisan fighter with the Russian Resistance where she must take life for the cause of freedom to help end the pointless destruction and suffering.  A comfort for Helga is the white map handkerchief, embroidered in black thread which had dried the tears of Olga’s mother in WW1. Susannah, as a Jewish young woman, imprisoned in Bergen-Belsen, writes on precious scraps of paper  to her husband and children from whom she has been cruelly separated.  She realises she may be a potential victim of the Nazi genocide of the Jews. The slowly unfolding stories from Belsen in Poland to Germany, Russia and Denmark are cleverly connected in the end and explain much of the incidental history of the conflict while delivering a message of hope and human compassion.

Written by Kiri English-Hawke when she was a schoolgirl, this short, insightful narrative affirms that the current generation of young people are still affected and troubled by the Holocaust of WW2 when ordinary citizens’ lives were scarred by an horrific and hideous conflict that made no sense.  It is a remarkable achievement as it offers a very positive picture on the resilience of the human spirit in the landscape of war.

About the reviewer: Lorraine Dobbie works as a teacher/librarian in the Independent Learning Centre of a leading private Girls High School in Sydney, Australia. In this role she teaches Research Skills and Literature appreciation. She has had a Literature unit of work published for teachers which used a novel study as a vehicle to teach Asian Studies in the English classroom. Her passion is to instil a love of reading to the students in her classes through the promotion of quality novels. She is a regular reviewer for Fiction Focus, an Australian magazine which is published by the Western Australia Dept. of Education. A recent book she reviewed, The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte by Syrie James inspired her to create a book trailer about that novel as a tribute to the Brontes. http://www.syriejames.com/videos.php She aspires to be a professional book editor/reviewer/trailer creator.