Review: The Vanishing of Katharina Linden

In Bad Münstereifel, a small town in  Germany, everyone knows everyone and their business. But then Katharina Linden disappears and suddenly the townspeople have to face the fact that these things happen even in their midst and Bad Münstereifel turns into one more place where parents are afraid to let their children roam outside.

Our young narrator is Pia, known as the girl whose grandmother exploded. Due to her grandmother’s unfortunate accident with an Adventskranz (advent wreath), Pia becomes a social outcast and has to make do with the friendship of StinkStefan (possibly the only one in school more unpopular than she is) and Herr Schiller. Herr Schiller is a genial older man who welcomes both children into his home and tells them local folk tales (most of which are apparently real stories of the area). Pia’s life is also unsettled by her parent’s marital problems, as her English expat mother wants to move the family to England.

At the center of the story is thus the tragic but sadly not uncommon phenomenon of young girls disappearing. But Grant embellishes her story by adding fairy tale and horror elements in the tradition of the Grimms as well as local folklore. The atmosphere she invokes is really fantastic, especially as we look at things from the perspective of a ten-year old girl. Bad Münstereifel is a small town with cobbled streets and timbered houses, close to the Eifel forest and is exactly what I always pictured when reading Grimm’s fairy tales (I grew up near the Eifel and we often went there to explore, though I think it was stressful for our parents, it is  very easy to get lost). Here is a picture of Bad Münstereifel and the surrounding forest:

 photo credit

I found The Vanishing of Katharina Linden to be an engrossing read. I didn’t mean to read through it in one sitting but Pia and her story captivated me. She is a very likeable character and narrator and I read that many people were confused about the target audience. I didn’t really think about that at all when I picked it up, but it seems to be suited for adults as well as young adults. Even though Pia is about ten years old in the story, she looks back from the age of about 17. I find her ‘memories’, that is the young Pia’s perspective well-represented though. I read the fairly tale elements as Pia’s way to negotiate her ten-year old’s world view with the sudden intrusion of adult violence in her life.

Looking back, I’m happy that this book wasn’t marketed aggressively as a YA book with fantasy and horror elements. It is very unlikely I would have read it. But I stumbled over this in the store and the cover isn’t very YA book-like (not my edition at least) and was shelved simply under English novels. Categories are often helpful guidelines but sometimes they scare me off books I might have enjoyed under any other label (there is something to say for rummage boxes in used books stores).

Grant lived in the town herself for some years and I can’t tell you how great it is to read a writer who uses German words and actually does so correctly! (Because butchering a foreign language when you have countless proofreaders and editors does not make you an intellectual!) Grant’s style is fantastic, the novel captivates you in the way that great stories do, but not in the breathless ways of thrillers. There are enough quiet moments that allow you to ponder the effects of the disappearances on the  town of Bad Münstereifel and how children transform their reality to accommodate these disturbing events.

Have you reviewed this book? Let me know and I’ll add a link!

19 thoughts on “Review: The Vanishing of Katharina Linden

  1. Thanks for introducing the Eifel forest. I would imagine your parents would be worried knowing how
    hyper you are! 🙂 Thanks goodness you didn’t vanish and you are still here to entertain us with your reviews. 😀

  2. Great review, Bina! Bad Münstereifel sounds like an interesting setting (and it also looks nice).

  3. Wonderful review, Bina! I love the cover of the book and the picture you have posted! You grew up near that forest? Wow – so awesome! I would love to read Herr Schiller’s local folk tales – they sound so fascinating from your description! I agree with your thoughts on categorizing books – sometimes it is better to not categorize a book as belonging to a particular genre, because different readers will relate to it differently. I read a book called ‘The Amulet of Samarkhand’ by Jonathan Stroud a few years back and it is typically marketed as a YA fantasy book. But to me it was a book which had a unique narrator (the narrator is a djinn) with a sarcastic sense of humour.

    1. Thanks, Vishy! Yup, about an hour by car (though it’s the other side of the forest from Bad Münstereifel). I’d love to read more about those flok stories as well, but the book also made me want to reread Grimm’s fairy tales!

      I’ve been looking at the Stroud book in the library, wondering whether it’s any good, but if you enjoyed it, I’ll have to give it a try 🙂

      1. It is a the first part of a trilogy, Bina. The second and third parts (‘The Golem’s Eye’ and ‘Ptolemy’s Gate’) aren’t that great, but the first part, ‘The Amulet of Samarkhand’, is awesome. It can be read as a stand-alone book. That Djinn is one of the coolest characters I have ever discovered in fiction. After typing this, I am tempted to read it again 🙂 If you do get to read it I would love to hear your thoughts on it.

  4. The photograph looks so similar to the little German town I lived in while I taught school in Germany in the mid80’s. The school isn’t being used any more, as the wall has come down and there isn’t the need for the American forces to protect West Germany’s freedom, but I do long for the European life so much. Your photograph brought back such happy memories of walks I’d take up a hill and that is the view I’d see while I rested.

  5. Nice picture Bina and I agree the cover is really appealing. Nice discoveries are made when you venture out of the norm reading 🙂 You would not have discovered it for its worth.

    PS Happy to hear that the German was not butchered and that it stayed true to form.

    1. I’m so happy I read it, it’s a great book. And yes, not having your language butchered makes for such a nice change 😀

  6. This has been on my radar since it was first released. So happy to finally read a review on it. Glad u loved it.

  7. Somehow I thought of the game “Sagaland” when I read this review (that is where all the Grimms-like stories are set in my head). I am definitely going to read that book.:-)

  8. Ich habe es mir schon bestellt (für lächerliche € 1,50), what a bargain. Freue mich schon auf den Büchertausch!:-)

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