I find my reading material down circuitous avenues. Maria Tatar’s Enchanted Hunters contains an appendix of quotes and excerpts about the power of stories. One of the excerpts I liked was written by a man named Peter Rushforth. I’d never heard of him, and immediately searched for his name on Amazon. When I discovered that the inimitable A.S. Byatt had called his first novel “brilliant,” I requested it from my library right away. That novel is Kindergarten.
Kindergarten was published in 1979 to enormous critical acclaim, winning the prestigious Hawthornden Prize. Rushforth then went silent for 25 years before publishing his second novel, and died suddenly in 2005. His last novel was published posthumously. I finished Kindergarten on Monday night and was so struck by it that afterward, I sat staring at the back cover for a long time. Yet Rushforth’s name seems to have receded into obscurity.
Kindergarten is an incredibly moving story about families and tragedy, told through the lens of a single family headed by Lilli—a woman whose own entire family perished in concentration camps. Many years later, her daughter is murdered in a terrorist attack, and Lilli assumes care of her three grandsons.
Rushforth’s prose is spare and elegant. The novel includes references to and retellings of many Grimm’s fairy tales, particularly Hansel and Gretel, which adds a timeless quality to the book. The fairy tale elements are somehow grounding, rather than fantastical.
Surprisingly funny, horrifying without being sensationalist, and above all inundated with a sense of hope, Kindergarten is a book I already want to read again.