Christine Leunens

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Christine Leunens
Born (1964-12-29) December 29, 1964 (age 54)
NationalityNew Zealand, Belgian, American
EducationVictoria University of Wellington (PhD) Harvard University (MLA)
Period1999 to present
Notable worksPrimordial Soup
Caging Skies
A Can of Sunshine

Christine Leunens is a New Zealand-Belgian novelist. She is the author of Primordial Soup, Caging Skies and A Can of Sunshine, which have been translated in over fifteen languages.[1] Caging Skies has been adapted for film by director Taika Waititi, under the name Jojo Rabbit.[2]

Early life[edit]

Christine Leunens was born in Hartford, Connecticut on 29 December 1964, the daughter of an Italian mother and a Belgian father, and the grand-daughter of Flemish artist Guillaume Leunens,[3] whose years in a German labour camp in WWII would afterwards influence his abstract metal works.[4] As a young child she travelled between Belgium and New England, and soon showed herself to be "obsessively bookish".[5] She moved to France as a teenager to study a year in Montpellier, after which she was offered a contract in Paris as a print model.[5] In the years to follow posed for magazines Vogue and Marie-Claire, fashion designers Givenchy, Pierre Balmain, Paco Rabanne, Sonia Rykiel, Nina Ricci,[5] and played a number of comical roles in TV commercials,[6] such as the betrayed wife in Mercedes-Benz’s “The Slap” and the jealous girlfriend in Suzuki’s “Baleno[5]”.

Literary career[edit]

In 1990, she moved to Picardy and lived a year on a farm breeding horses, and started writing plays.[7] She moved on to screenwriting, won an award in 1996 for Best Screenplay from the Centre National du Cinéma under the Presidency of Isabelle Huppert.[7] However, a summer session in English Literature at Exeter College, Oxford University, changed her path. In 1997 she dedicated herself to writing her first novel, Primordial Soup, which focuses on sex, food and faith.[5] A critical success in 1999, The Sunday Times described it as a “remarkable debut novel”,[8] and Publishers Weekly as "kinky, grotesque and very funny" and "not for the faint of heart".[9]

In 2000 she researched the Hitler Youth and WWII Vienna context of Caging Skies at the Memorial de Caen in Normandy.[10] It is about a member of the Hitler youth in Vienna, who “discovers his parents are hiding a young Jewish woman behind a false wall in their home”.[1] Le Monde called it a “beautiful novel, powerful, different, and ambitious” about “love so total that it locks up, isolates and colonises the partner until destruction, annihilates the outside world”.[11] The French translation went through three editions,[12][13] and was nominated for the Prix Médicis Étranger 2007,[14] and the Prix du roman Fnac 2008.[15] The play adaptation of Caging Skies, written by Desirée Gezentsvey and directed by Andrew Foster, had its world premiere at the Circa Theatre, Wellington in August 2017.[16][17] Film director Taika Waititi adapted Caging Skies[18] for film in his 2012 Hollywood Black List script, Jojo Rabbit,[19][20] to be filmed in Prague in spring 2018.[21] Jojo Rabbit, starring Taika Waititi,[22][23] Scarlett Johansson,[24] Sam Rockwell,[25] Rebel Wilson,[26] Thomasin McKenzie,[27] Roman Griffin Davis, Stephen Merchant[28] and Alfie Allen,[29] is set to be one of the first releases by Fox Searchlight Pictures, the arthouse studio of 21st Century Fox under proposed owner Disney in 2019.[24]

Leunens was awarded a Master of Liberal Arts in English and American Literature and Language from Harvard University in 2005, a Dean’s Thesis Prize in the Humanities for her work on Henry James and The Ambassadors, and a Thomas Small Prize for Academic Achievement and Character.[30] In 2006, she moved with her family to New Zealand to get "as close as it gets to paradise [...]" and "discovered that there were nevertheless scars, deep scars. A story is always born from a wound - at least the kind of stories I write."[31] She was granted a scholarship from the Victoria University of Wellington in 2008 to do a PhD in Creative Writing at the International Institute of Modern Letters. Her doctoral study on the mother-in-law and daughter-in-law relationship inspired her third novel, A Can of Sunshine.[32][33] It tells the story of a young mother having problems with her mother-in-law, a lonely widow, and when she herself tragically loses her own husband in a car accident, follows the relationship between these two women over the next ten years.[34] The novel received the support of a Creative New Zealand Quick Grant[35] and was selected by the NZ Herald amongst the best books in English worldwide in 2013.[36]

She is now nearing completion of a Franco-New Zealand historical novel, set in Auckland and Paris at the time of the Rainbow Warrior bombing.[4]

Personal life[edit]

Leunens has been married to Axel de Maupeou d’Ableiges since 1999. They have three sons, and have been living in New Zealand since 2006.[3]


  • Primordial Soup (1999)
  • Caging Skies (2008)
  • A Can of Sunshine (2013)


  1. ^ Noted. "Acclaimed Holocaust novel Caging Skies takes to the stage". Noted. Retrieved 2018-04-20.
  2. ^ Doherty, Rosa (14 February 2018). ""Wanted by Hollywood director: Jewish teenage girl to star in new movie"". Retrieved 2018-04-20.
  3. ^ a b Flagler, Bette. ""Happily Ever After"". NZ Life & Leisure. Issue 43. May/June 2012: 102–107.
  4. ^ a b ""Nelson", Neighbourhood Season 2017, Episode 4".
  5. ^ a b c d e Price, Andrea (Spring 2008). ""Je t'aime Palmy"". Fashion Quarterly: 66–68.
  6. ^ "Good morning show". April 2008.
  7. ^ a b Lane, Eric. "Our Authors & Translators".
  8. ^ Baker, Phil (24 October 1999). "Caging Skies by Christine Leunens". The Sunday Times.
  9. ^ "Fiction Book Review: Primordial Soup by Christine Leunens, Author Dedalus Press $12.99 (196p) ISBN 978-1-873982-19-8". Retrieved 2018-04-20.
  10. ^ Freeman, Lynn (2017-08-06). "Interview with Christine Leunens". Radio New Zealand. Retrieved 2018-04-20.
  11. ^ Soublin, Jean (23 November 2007). ""Le ciel en cage (Caging Skies) de Christine Leunens"". Le Monde.
  12. ^ Leunens, Christine (2008). Le ciel en cage. Paris: Editions France Loisirs. ISBN 978-2-298-01402-0.
  13. ^ Leunens, Christine (2014). Le ciel en cage. Paris: Editions Philippe Rey. ISBN 978-2-84876-426-9.
  14. ^ "Le ciel en cage, de Christine Leunens". 23 August 2007.
  15. ^ "Authors - Christine Leunens".
  16. ^ Sandys, Elspeth (10 August 2017). ""Acclaimed Holocaust novel Caging Skies takes to the stage"". NZ Listener.
  17. ^ Doherty, Rosa (February 14, 2008). ""Wanted by Hollywood Director: Jewish teenage girl to star in new movie"". Retrieved 2018-04-20.
  18. ^ "Taika Waititi is casting his new WWII film". The Wireless. Retrieved 2018-04-24.
  19. ^ Finke, Nikki (17 December 2012). "The Black List 2012: Screenplay Roster".
  20. ^ "Taika Waititi is casting his new WWII film". The Wireless. Retrieved 2018-06-17.
  21. ^ "Taika Waititi, Scarlett Johansson to Shoot New Movie in Prague". The Prague Reporter. Retrieved 2018-04-20.
  22. ^ Travis, Ben. "Taika Waititi Shares First Hitler Image from Jojo Rabbit". Empire. Retrieved 2018-06-17.
  23. ^ "'Jojo Rabbit': First Image Shows off Taika Waititi's Imaginary Hitler!!! Check It Out!!". Welcome to Moviz Ark!. 2018-06-12. Retrieved 2018-06-17.
  24. ^ a b "Why We Should All Be Excited for the Next Movie From 'Thor: Ragnarok' Director". Observer. 2018-03-29. Retrieved 2018-04-20.
  25. ^ "Sam Rockwell Joining Scarlett Johansson in Taika Waititi's 'Jojo Rabbit' (Exclusive)". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2018-04-24.
  26. ^ "Rebel Wilson Joins Cast of Taika Waititi Film 'Jojo Rabbit'". TheWrap. 2018-05-22. Retrieved 2018-06-06.
  27. ^ N'Duka, Amanda (2018-05-31). "Taika Waititi's WWII Pic 'Jojo Rabbit' Adds Thomasin McKenzie". Deadline. Retrieved 2018-06-06.
  28. ^ "Logan's Stephen Merchant Cast In Taika Waititi's Jojo Rabbit". ScreenRant. 2018-06-19. Retrieved 2018-06-23.
  29. ^ "'Game of Thrones' Actor Alfie Allen Joins 'Jojo Rabbit' Cast". /Film. 2018-06-19. Retrieved 2018-06-24.
  30. ^ "Extension School students and faculty are honored with prizes for outstanding work". Harvard Gazette. 2005-06-09. Retrieved 2018-04-20.
  31. ^ Gail, Pittaway (October 2013). "Writing in Aotearoa right now: a bricolage" (PDF). Waikato Institute of Technology, New Zealand. Text Special Issue 21: Scores from another ground: 8–9.
  32. ^ Wellington, Victoria University of (2017-04-26). "Mothers-in-law—friend or foe?". Victoria University of Wellington. Retrieved 2018-04-20.
  33. ^ "Christine Leunens : A Can of Sunshine". Radio New Zealand. 2013-11-17. Retrieved 2018-04-24.
  34. ^
  35. ^
  36. ^ Herrick, Linda (10 December 2013). "Best Books of the Year". The New Zealand Herald.

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