Monday 25 March 2013

Classics Club Review: Emil and the Detectives

Emil and the Detectives by Erich Kastner - read as part of the 5 Year Classics Challenge (see challenge list here)

Synopsis from GoodreadsIf Mrs Tischbein had known the amazing adventures her son Emil would have in Berlin, she'd never have let him go.
Unfortunately, when his seven pounds goes missing on the train, Emil is determined to get it back - and when he teams up with the detectives he meets in Berlin, it's just the start of a marvellous money-retrieving adventure . . .
A classic and influential story, Emil and the Detectives remains an enthralling read.

A jolly children's adventure book first published in Great Britain in 1931 (I think it was published in Germany in 1929?) . I enjoyed reading this 1980 reprint to 8 year old Charis and she thoroughly enjoyed the story too. Translated from the German by Eileen Hall, I love the old style English phrases and colloqualisms that transported me back to my Enid Blyton filled childhood days. I couldn't help but adopt a posh English accent whilst reading the parts of Emil's newfound Berlin pals and, yet, for some reason Emil's mother, Mrs Tischbein, had a colourful 1960s Cockney accent. Why? I don't know, but it certainly brought the characters to life and made bedtimes fun.

We liked the illustrations dotted throughout the book. Here is Emil in his Sunday best:

I particularly liked that Mrs Tischbein was a hardworking single parent. Being in the same position myself, I instantly related to her:

“Emil's father was a master plumber, but he died when Emil was five. So his mother became a hairdresser, trimming, washing, and setting the hair of all the mothers and girls in her neighbourhood. She has to do all the housework as well, of course, and the washing and cooking. She is very fond of Emil and glad she can earn enough money for them both. Sometimes she sings lively songs. Sometimes she's ill. Then Emil does the cooking. He can fry eggs, steak and onions too.” 

Don't you just love it already? So when the £7 spending money goes missing on Emil's train journey to his relations in Berlin, you think, (and so does Emil - he's a conscientious lad), gosh, Mrs Tischbein worked hard to save that money. Emil, you must get it back. And so the adventure begins. 

One of my favourite parts of the book is the chapter 'A Wild Nightmare'. Emil has a nap during the train journey resulting in a strange dream. A horse drawn steam train, commanded by police sergeant Jescke of Emil's home town, angrily chases Emil across town and up glass buildings. It was so succinctly depicted, I felt Emil's anxiety as the train bore down on him. It seems our Emil has a guilty conscience. As his mother helps him board the train to Berlin, they bump into sergeant Jescke and Emil expects to be arrested: 

“But Emil had a guilty conscience where the sergeant was concerned and felt quite sick at the sound of his voice. He and some of his school friends had stopped on their way back from a gym lesson in the meadow by the river a few days ago, to stick an old felt hat on the statue of the Grand Duke Charles which stood in the market place...Then, as Emil was good at drawing, he had been lifted up by the others to chalk a red nose and a black moustache on the duke's face. He was just adding the finishing touches when Sergeant Jeschke turned the corner into the square, and, although they had all raced off at top speed, they were awfully afraid he had recognised them."

Hence the dream, during which something significant happens to Emil that sparks his subsequent adventure and his meeting with the 'Detectives'. 

It's all harmless, rip roaring fun and beautifully translated. And oh so posh! Charis and I laughed, oohed and aahed through each installment and, at the beginning of each, wondered what Emil and his middle-class detective pals would get up to next and whether his sassy, bike riding cousin, Pony (what a cool name) Hutchen, would make another appearance. I think the gang rather liked her. 

 Of all the detectives we especially liked Gustav "Everyone knows me and my motor-horn":

“ 'Right you are. I'll be as quick as I can,' said Gustav. 'Trust me. He's eating an egg now, so he can't be leaving just yet. Cheerio, Emil. Gosh, I'm looking forward to this. It's going to be smashing!' 

And with that he dashed off."

This is a great gem of a story to read aloud.


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  2. thank you for your lovely comment dear <33