Hannah & Emil is the third novel from Vogel Literary Award winner Belinda Castles, and is inspired by the events of her grandparents’ lives. In a similar style to Anna Funder’s All That I Am, the novel begins in contemporary Australia—with newly immigrated Flora discovering journals and keepsakes from her grandmother Hannah’s life—before transporting the reader back to early 20th-century Europe, where we meet Hannah, in England, and Emil, in Germany, as children. The chapters alternate between the two characters as they grow up and begin their journeys to the point where their lives will cross; Hannah as she seeks out independence through her career in the trade union movement, and Emil as he returns to a devastated Germany after fighting in World War I and gradually becomes involved in resistance activities against the increasingly powerful Nazi regime. When World War II breaks out both Hannah and Emil are forced to set out on another journey, albeit a more dangerous one. In the final pages of her story Hannah reflects that she has made ‘a home in movement’. It’s an apt description of her life, and Emil’s, but this sense of movement could also be used to describe Castles’ novel. It never sits still and the reader is left feeling they have travelled as far as the main characters. Fans of historical fiction will enjoy this novel, which celebrates both the everydayness of building a life with someone, and the extraordinary feat of overcoming great obstacles to that life.
Eloise Keating is a journalist for Bookseller+Publisher. This review first appeared on the Bookseller+Publisher website. View more pre-publication reviews here.