Chocolate Cake with Hitler, By Emma Craigie

Reviewed,Anita Sethi
Sunday 14 February 2010 01:00

This novel is set over 10 days – the last in the life of 12-year-old Helga Goebbels, the daughter of the Nazi party's minister of propaganda, which are spent cut off in a "stranger bunker world" in Berlin sharing chocolate cake with "Uncle Leader". Helga struggles to understand what is fact and what is fiction in her troubled life, but she can perceive the bitter tensions between the adults around her. The bunker becomes emptier, lonelier, until soon the brutal truth is apparent.

Emma Craigie has set herself a challenging period of history to fictionalise, but her poised style is powerful and stripped of sentimentality, and she skilfully enters the psyche of a young girl. Helga makes shrewd observations ("Uncle Leader's mind was completely elsewhere"), while marshalling memories to sustain her in her present situation. There is a sense of foreboding and tragedy, not least when she dreams of the future, of how she might spend her summer, reunited with friends and family, even as her future recedes into nothingness.

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