Although the action of Kindergarten takes place over only five days during the Christmas holidays of 1978, the text is intercut with so much parallel and peripherally related material that the novel resonates with significance greater than that one might expect from the story of a family Christmas celebration. Kindergarten is about childhood, home, and sanctuary; more than that, however, it is about a close-knit family circle in the context of a larger, often hostile society that seeks to invade and destroy familial bonds.
The novel begins with an excerpt from the tale “Hansel and Gretel” the episode in which Hansel and Gretel’s stepmother suggests that the children be abandoned in the forest and then immediately introduces Corrie Meeuwissen, the protagonist, as he prepares to celebrate Christmas with his younger brothers, Jo and Matthias, and their grandmother Lilli Meeuwissen. Celebration of any kind is difficult for the boys this year: Their mother is dead gunned down in a terrorist attack in Rome nine months earlier in April and their father is in the United States helping to raise money for the families of the other victims. Lilli has promised the boys “a traditional German Christmas,” an event for which she has been preparing secretly for days, and when the three boys enter her dining room for the promised treat, they are stunned by the decorations: a glittering tree, Lilli’s paintings, gifts, a spread of holiday sweets including a gingerbread house (which immediately reminds Corrie of Hansel and Gretel and the enchanted house in the forest), and hundreds of lighted candles.
During the festivities, Corrie suddenly realizes that Lilli’s generous act is not the re-creation of a childhood memory for the amusement of three lonely boys. Being an artist, she has contrived a ceremony that she, being Jewish, knows about only from books. Corrie is overwhelmed by this evidence of his grandmother’s love. He has known about his Jewish heritage (his mother was English, his father only half Jewish) for only two years; as the Christmas celebration proceeds, Corrie puzzles over the meaning of his Jewishness. During the events of the next four days, Corrie...
(The entire section is 899 words.)