Peter Rushforth Christopher Lehmann-Haupt - Essay

Christopher Lehmann-Haupt

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Obviously, there is a war going on [in Kindergarten]—a war between death and innocence, between fairy tales and the realities of the 20th century. It is a war that is reflected in the novel's every image and literary reference, from "The Diary of Anne Frank" to the postcards depicting Berlin's Brandenburg Gate, on the message side of which are written pleas on behalf of Jewish children whose parents are trying to free them from the menace of Hitler.

How is this battle fought and resolved in "Kindergarten"? In the foreground of Mr. Rushforth's novel … four members of the Meeuwissen family—the three boys Corrie, Jo, and Matthias; and their old grandmother Lilli—are about to celebrate a traditional German Christmas, despite their being Jewish by inheritance if not in practice.

It will not be easy to rejoice, because the children's mother is dead, killed nine months earlier in a terrorist attack on an Italian airport, and their father is abroad, raising money for the relatives of other victims of the attack. (pp. 416-17)

Still, the Meeuwissens proceed to celebrate, and during the four days that follow we come to know these remarkably sensitive and precocious children as they try to make sense of the terrifying world that surrounds them. Finally, on Dec. 28, which happens to be the birthday of the oldest boy, Corrie, the grandmother reveals a surprise she has for them. Though she has recently...

(The entire section is 487 words.)