I was sent a copy of Apple Cake and Baklava by Kathrin Rohmann, translated by my friend and colleague Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp (Darf Publishers, 2018) for review.
As I read it with Son2, it seemed to make sense to share what he thought of it too.
It’s the story of Leila and Max – Leila is the new girl in Max’s class at school in Germany, and a refugee from the war in Syria. She is living in a nice flat with her mum and two brothers, but misses her dad and her grandma, who stayed behind in Syria because Grandma Amina was too ill to travel. Leila particularly misses her Grandma Amina’s garden, but she has a walnut from the tree there, given her as a farewell present, and it is her most precious possession. She feels that it is a link to her grandma and to Syria, and it offers comfort and security in a strange situation. Max likes Leila straight away, but he’s too shy to speak to her at first. It’s only when Leila loses her treasured walnut and Max tries to help her find it that they strike up a friendship. Like Leila, he has a close relationship with his grandmother, Granny Gertrud, who also had the experience of being a refugee – this time at the end of the Second World War. This means that she is able to talk to Leila in a way that nobody else can, as the two have this shared experience.
Here are Son2’s thoughts (spoiler alert!):
“I thought that in some points it was really sad like when Leila said that her dad and grandma couldn’t come to Germany because Leila’s grandma was very ill but in some points it’s really happy like when they plant the walnut in Granny Gertrud’s garden.
I liked it when Max found Leila’s walnut and when they thought that Leila’s dad could take over Jette’s dad’s bakery instead of going to his cousin in Canada.”
We read it shortly after Son2’s school had learnt about the refugee crisis as part of Norfolk Welcomes and the story works really well as an opening to talk about some difficult issues and emotions. It deals with friendship, loneliness and homesickness and touches lightly on people-smuggling, war and the dangers faced by refugees.
Each chapter is told from the perspective either of Leila or of Max, giving us an insight into how each of them feels about the events of the story. I found that this worked better when I was reading it aloud to S than when reading it to myself as an adult reader, although I’m not sure why. It’s interesting how these things make a difference, though.
Ruth’s translation leaves some traces of German and Arabic, which helps to remind young readers of the setting in a different country, and of the difficulties in learning a new language – we see that Leila is much better at this than Max.
The recipes at the end are a nice touch too, and we will have to try them out!
You can see more reviews and Ruth’s thoughts on the book here: https://ruthahmedzaikemp.com/2018/06/11/apple-cake-and-baklava-2/