Thursday 18 November 2021

Rabbit, Soldier, Angel, Thief

Rabbit, Soldier, Angel, Thief by Katrina Nannestad, illustrated by Martina Heiduczek (ABC Books) HB RRP $19.99 ISBN: 9780733341465

Reviewed by Dannielle Viera

Ten-year-old Sasha sits up in a German hospital bed, looking at things he has stolen. He knows that each item has a special meaning, but he can’t remember what it is. When Doctor Orlova brings him a bouquet, the ‘blue, blue cornflowers’ trigger the first of many memories for Sasha. He begins to tell his story to a rapt audience of staff and patients. As each swiped item slips into place like a puzzle piece, Sasha relives his escape from German soldiers in Russia, his adoption by a company of Red Army soldiers, his anointment as the Angel of Stalingrad, and a Berlin bomb that shatters his chance at happiness. Or does it?

Katrina Nannestad paints with poignancy, each textual stroke adding a new layer of intensity and intrigue. Powerful imagery entices the senses and weaves a three-dimensional world where the stark line between good and bad, love and hate, right and wrong, soon becomes blurred. Katrina’s use of present tense immerses middle-grade readers in a flood of emotion and action, propelling them page-by-page to the bittersweet conclusion.

Martina Heiduczek’s atmospheric black-and-white illustrations are the perfect way to set the scene for each of Sasha’s story sessions. But even before the book is opened, the boy’s eyes peer earnestly from Martina’s glorious cover image, compelling youngsters to join him on a memorable journey. The warmth of the sun’s rays and the colourful blooms in his hand reassure readers that the protagonist finds joy among the ruins of his life.

Played out against the brutal backdrop of World War II, Rabbit, Soldier, Angel, Thief is a heart-rending tale of loss, survival, resilience, and love. Battered by the waves of fate, Sasha refuses to go under – his determination and devotion eventually deliver him to the shores of hope.

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