How Huge is the Night?

by Anna Blanch on June 16, 2011

Set in the midst of the Nazi sweep across Europe, this is a coming of age story. Written by mother and daughter Heather and Lydia Munn (Kregel Publications: 2011).

The novel presents two interweaving plot lines. Fifteen-year-old Julien Losier is a newcomer to a small village in central France, the childhood home of his parents, as his family seeks desperately to outrun the Nazis. Though he is initially consumed with trying to fit in,  he is suddenly faced with bigger challenges than being teased by his new neighbours and his inability to understand local customs.

Rather jarringly, we are also introduced to Nina Krenkel who left her country of Austria with her younger brother in a desperate bid to obey her father’s dying command.

Take your brother and leave Austria. Burn your papers. Tell no one you are Jews.

When she and her brother Gustav arrives in the little village of Tanieux, France, where Julian and his family are, she is dangerously ill and in despair. The relationship between Julien and his parents is worth particular note in their explanations of the meaning of events. This commentary does have the potential to become didactic (and not in a good way).

Thrown together by the chaos of war, Julien begins to feel the ignoble weight of the impending conflict and Nina fights to survive. Written through the eyes of the teen characters, this is a historical novel with a difference and one which doesn’t simply repeat what other historical novels treating the period deal with. It plays with the genre of the historical novel.  There is no dramatic climax, but in many ways this is a relief. These authors don’t seem to fear feeling the reality of the suffering ad the weight of the difficult decisions of their characters. As France falls to the Nazis, Julien wrestles with what it means to do the right thing, even if (ad when) it is not enough – and wonders whether or not he really can save Nina from almost certain death.

The novel is also supported by the addition of historical material at the end of the book sharing further background on the true story of the town of Le Chambon-the only French town honored by Israel for rescuing Jews from the Holocaust.

How Huge the Night may be of particular interest for teen readers, offering an intriguing narrative about the war period (which to many is now the domain of their great grand-parents) and asks some big questions about life and stepping up in difficult circumstances.

Read an excerpt of How Huge the Night by Heather Munn and Lydia Munn.

Excerpts from two other reviews:

“This is a stunning piece of writing, a real page-turner. Not only does it present the grim realities of hunger, racism, and war, it also shows young people grappling with a world not of their own making and triumphing in the face of overwhelming adversity. The book should be on the must-read list for anyone interested in life’s big questions, sensitively and compellingly addressed.” (Jill Pelaez Baumgaertner, Professor of English, Dean of Humanities and Theological Studies Wheaton College )

“The Munns have written an engrossing historical novel that is faithful to the actual events of World War II in western Europe during the tumultuous year 1940. But How Huge the Night is more than good history; it is particularly refreshing because the reader sees the conflict through the lives of teenagers who are forced to grapple with their honest questions about the existence and goodness of God in the midst of community, family, and ethnic tensions in war-ravaged France.”–Lyle W. Dorsett, Billy Graham Professor of Evangelism, Beeson Divinity School, Samford University

Finally, I have to share a little a-ha moment. When I first opened this book my eyes settled on the dedication page and a little light went on….

You see I know a Grace Schuler….

So, i put this little image together and asked my friend is this dedication referred to her. The coolest part was that I was able to share the news – Grace and her parents weren’t aware that the book had been dedicated to them!

So, it is indeed a small world. It seems that my friend Grace and her parents made quite an impression on Heather Munn.

This post is part of a Litfuse Blog Tour; A copy of this book was provided to the reviewer. See my disclosure for more information.

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  • Heather Munn

    Hi Anna…


    I can't believe you know Grace!

    See, I hadn't told them yet… I was waiting for something (long story) but, y'know, it's probably just as well, I wasn't sure if I should wait or just go ahead, so…

    Guess I better send them their copies now!

    ; )

  • Rebecca

    Thanks for reviewing this book; I will have to try to get my hands on a copy. Philip Hallie's book about Le Chambon may be one of the most powerful stories I have ever read. It would make a great film with the right screenplay, director, and cast.

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