Erich Kästner is a National Treasure in Germany, and this might be his most treasured book. Telling Germans I am reading it, I have found, often results in glossy-eyed nostalgia.
I can partially understand this. It must be a very comforting book to read at the right age. Not only does everything turn out right in the end, but two of the adults are presented as boddhisattva-like images of perfection. One is the benevolent boarding-school headmaster, the other a drop-out living in an old railway carriage.
Reading it as an adult is less satisfying, for some of the same reasons. Many of the characters feel two-dimensional, and spend a lot of time repeating their gimmicks. One wants to be a boxer and is permanently hungry, for example, and another is easily scared. But I can’t complain, since this is obviously something which works better for the target audience.
I was also taken aback by some of the violence between children. Clearly, childhood has become less physically aggressive in the 95 years since the book was first published. A fight to KO, a child being tortured in a basement: I’m glad to say that these are well beyond my own experience.
I definitely enjoyed reading this. Had I read it at age 10, I would doubtless me many times more enthusiastic.