Three young children flee Russian tanks as Hitler loses the Second World War
It's 1945 and the Wolf family is apprehensive, like many of their fellow Prussians. Russian soldiers are advancing; the German army is losing the war. So bad is the German position they are sending out the elderly and under-aged to fight. Eleven-year old Liesl, seven-year-old Otto and toddler Mia have said goodbye to their physically disabled father, as he has been drafted into the war. The family keeps telling themselves everything will be alright, despite the soldiers advancing. Liesl steadfastly believes in the goodness of Hitler, while Otto has had enough and curses the Fuhrer. When the tanks and bombs start rolling in, there's nothing left to do but flee. They grab as much as they can carry and run with their mother (Mama) and grandparents (Oma and Opa).
It's a life of immediate hardships and they soon have to leave Oma and Opa by the roadside. As they traverse rivers covered in ice and wade through forests, they lose sight of their Mama and the three children must fend for themselves. They feel constant hunger, suffer cold and lose energy. Their hunger means they are often reduced to eating slugs and killing wildlife. From time to time they are lucky and find a barn to sleep in and a cow to milk. Often they rely on the rare kindness of strangers.
All during this period Liesl undergoes a conversion, from believer in the essential goodness of Hitler, to the realisation that he is responsible for the most hideous war crimes.
Katrina Nannestad has written an engrossing, nicely paced and plotted children's book that carefully balances its themes of war, hunger and extreme hardship against more uplifting and optimistic notes. We Are Wolves is quite an achievement: ambitious subject matter, smartly worked into a children's adventure story, with instructive lessons on war, politics and the importance of resilience.
We Are Wolves, by Katrina Nannestad. Published by ABC Books. $19.99
North Melbourne Books