‘What would you do if you found yourself caught up in another war?’ I asked my mother, Leni, when I was about 12 years old. ‘Commit suicide’ she replied, without batting an eyelid.
Her response was so immediate that I can still remember how much it shocked me. She did not hesitate, even for a second.
Magadelana (Leni) is born in pre-war Germany, an illegitimate child, spurned by her extended family and by the whole village in which she lives. Only her mother loves her, but their fight for survival is fraught with difficulties, with tough economic times made increasingly dire when war is declared. A young Leni has to leave school and help support her mother and younger brothers, but her employer is a sadistic rapist. The terrible misfortune that seems to plague her life continues long after the war ends, but in 1950 Leni, her Yugoslav husband and their young son arrive in Australia hoping for a better life.
War Child is the true story of a childhood which seems to awful to be true, and of the search by Leni’s daughter to uncover her mother’s story and the secrets she kept. Spanning over 100 years, and three continents, the story is gripping, uncomfortable and often sad, but it makes for compelling reading.
War Child, by Annette Janic with Catherine McCullagh
Big Sky Publishing, 2016