Ladybug, ladybug fly away home,
Your house is on fire,
Your children all gone.

Some nursery rhymes chill one’s bones. Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary has veiled references to torture under the reign of Queen Mary I — “Bloody Mary.” Ring Around the Rosy might insinuate the black death. Ladybug, Ladybug has no use for subtle allusions, however; in this nursery rhyme, the horror is overt — your house is on fire, your children all gone. You can hear the high voices of children creepily chanting the unsettling lines, which Stefan Kiesbye has taken for the title of one of his eeriest novels.

We see the German village of Hemmersmoor through the eyes of four of its children, Christian, Martin, Linde, and Anke. Like author Shirley Jackson’s unsettling small towns where malice underlies the surface, the foul air and low lives of Hemmersmoor permeates the novel. The book begins and ends with Christian who has been described by the author as “the only one to be able to form the story, the one who ventured away and returned, and he’s also the one who never thinks of himself as right or justified. He follows his own very crooked compass and acknowledges the evil in him.” Martin, the village gendarme’s, or policeman’s son is benign and has a conscience that ends in him rejecting the inhabitants as he marries, and he does his best to keep his family insulated. Linde and Anke begin as best friends until an unforgivable betrayal severs their friendship. A perverse carnival-like atmosphere permeates the book.

The children spend much time at the Old Mill, the scene of the brutality of Swedish soldiers against a miller’s family and property during the 30 Years’ War, playing their own unsettling reenactments of the tale. The author stated that this scene was a “dirty answer” to the terrifying children’s book Krabat & the Sorcerer’s Mill by Otfried Presussler, recently made into a movie. Krabat is a beggar boy who works for a master ceaselessly grinding grain and learning the black arts from him along with 11 other boys until good conquers evil. Good doesn’t stand a chance in Hemmersmoor. Like Krabat, Your House is a very German book, with its black magic reminiscent of the Brothers Grimm grimmest tales, only modernized, as if narrated by The Twilight Zone’s Rod Serling.

Ominous village baking contests. persecution of attractive women as witches, a terrifying dare by one child to another on the icy lake, and a mysteriously abandoned camp, the entrance to Hell may or may not be in Hemmersmoor. Kiesbye says that Your House Is on Fire, Your Children All Gone “is a dirty lovesong to the landscape and its people. It’s all wrong and twisted, but it’s your life, you need to know and accept that. You don’t have to like it.”

For the trailers for Your House Is On Fire, Your Children All Gone and Krabat and The Sorcerer’s Mill go to:–DI0

For more from The Literary Chick, go to

Call Now Button
Share This