Immediately after finishing the first book in her trilogy, I sat spellbound on the window seat. Colors whirled about my head. An irrepressible energy pulled me out the door so I could walk it off. Nearly dancing through the neighborhood, I kept clenching the climbing clip that functions as my keychain. Drugged by books, what an addiction.
This book blew the top off my head. Spare writing, a constant gut punch. The story follows a pair of twins after their mother deposits them at their grandmother (the Witch)'s house in Small Town while Big Town is being attacked during the war. The precocious boys are inseparable and unnamed, intelligent and unyielding in their quest for discipline, knowledge, living life correctly. The grandmother also has a foreign officer boarding with her, who brings the boys into his world and eventually leaves the gramophone to them after departing. The twins take care of the neighbor and her mother, depositing firewood and bullying the priest for money for them. The boys learn juggling and acrobatics, earning money from drunks in bars.
Eventually the mother returns and tries to pry the boys away but they refuse to leave. A shell hits the yard and kills her and the baby. The grandmother and boys bury their mother and when their "cousin" returns from town to ask what happened, simply say that a shell landed in the yard. Their father eventually arrives to ask where the mother is. Grandmother shows them the grave. He insists on having her unburied to be properly stowed in a cemetery. When the skeleton shows a smaller skeleton around her neck, he breaks down. The twins take the bones, clean them, and hang them in the attic. The father requests their assistance in crossing the frontier, and they oblige.
In small bites, this story consumes you, showing you the dehumanizing power of war.
I stopped after finishing the first book because popular consensus says books 2 and 3 are not nearly as good. I'd prefer to keep Kristof's legend spotless with only the memory of this book.