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Your House Is on Fire, Your Children All Gone by Stefan Kiesbye

This entry is part 19 of 23 in the series 2023 Reads

As ever, this comes a little while after reading the book. This one’s a long-term loaner (it’s been on my shelf awhile now) from Justin Howe

This is a weird, dark book about a northern German village that’s terrible, and which is filled with terrible people who do terrible things. Some of it is fairy-tale dark, a lot of it is over the top horrible, and much of the horrible stuff involves children doing truly horrible things to other children—or to the local simpleton, or to adults who (mostly) don’t deserve it. Occasionally it’s an adult who does somerthing horrible, but often it’s kids. Of course, it’s kids growing up in a world haunted by the past: witches, ghosts, the Devil, and strange superstitions all feature into the story. 

The thing is, I’m not sure what the point of it is. As meditations on the nature of evil go, this one feels a bit opaque to me—well,  unless we’re supposed to meditate on how evil is universal and kids are as evil as anyone. (German authors have been meditating on that for a while, so it’s possible.) Or perhaps it’s more a meditation on the nature of selfishness, since that underlies a a lot of the cruelty in these pages? There’s something anti-pastoral about the entire thing, too—the way the kids are closer to nature and the wilderness, but in some ways are also closer to being wild animals than most readers will feel themselves to be—but that doesn’t exactly congeal for me in a way that I feel I can do anything with. Ultimately, the book recounts a horrible series of events in a deeply screwed-up little community, positioning it as somehow a part of the process of growing up in that community, and this left me with more questions than answers. (Maybe that’s the point?)   

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