Leunens in 2020
|Born||29 December 1964|
Hartford, Connecticut, US
|Education||Victoria University of Wellington (PhD)|
Harvard University (MLA)
|Notable works||Primordial Soup|
A Can of Sunshine
Christine Leunens (born 29 December 1964) is a New Zealand-Belgian novelist. She is the author of Primordial Soup, Caging Skies, and A Can of Sunshine, which have been translated into over twenty languages. Caging Skies, the international bestselling novel about a child in the Hitler Youth, was the basis and inspiration for the award-winning film, Jojo Rabbit, by Taika Waititi, which won the Toronto International Film Festival's People Choice Award, and the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay.
Leunens was born in Hartford, Connecticut, United States, on 29 December 1964, the daughter of an Italian mother and a Belgian father, and the granddaughter of Flemish artist Guillaume Leunens, whose years in a German labour camp in WWII would afterwards influence his abstract metal works. As a young child she travelled between Belgium and New Zealand, and soon showed herself to be "obsessively bookish". She moved to France as a teenager to study for a year in Montpellier, after which she was offered a contract in Paris as a print model. In the years that followed she posed for magazines Vogue and Marie Claire, fashion designers Givenchy, Pierre Balmain, Paco Rabanne, Sonia Rykiel, Nina Ricci, and played a number of comic roles in TV commercials, such as the betrayed wife in Mercedes-Benz's "The Slap" and the jealous girlfriend in Suzuki's "Baleno".
In 1990, she moved to Picardy and lived a year on a farm breeding horses, and started writing plays. She moved on to screenwriting, won an award in 1996 for Best Original Screenplay from the Centre National du Cinéma under the Presidency of Isabelle Huppert. 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. A critical success in 1999, The Sunday Times described it as a "remarkable debut novel", and Publishers Weekly as "kinky, grotesque and very funny" and "not for the faint of heart".
In 2000, she researched the Hitler Youth and WWII Vienna context of Caging Skies at the Memorial de Caen in Normandy. 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". 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". The French translation went through four editions, and was nominated for the Prix Médicis étranger in 2007, and the Prix du roman Fnac 2008.
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. 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." 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. 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. The novel received the support of a Creative New Zealand Quick Grant and was selected by the New Zealand Herald as amongst the best books in English worldwide in 2013.
Film director Taika Waititi adapted Caging Skies as the 2019 film Jojo Rabbit. Filmed in Prague in spring 2018, starring Waititi, Roman Griffin Davis, Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell, Rebel Wilson, Thomasin McKenzie, Stephen Merchant, and Alfie Allen, Jojo Rabbit was one of the first releases by Fox Searchlight Pictures, the arthouse studio of 21st Century Fox, under their new ownership by Disney. The film won the People's Choice Award at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival, and was nominated for two Golden Globes, as well as six British Academy of Film and Television Arts Awards, and six Academy Awards, including the Oscar for Best Film and Best Adapted Screenplay. It won the Writers Guild of America 2020 Award, as well as the BAFTA and Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, and the Humanitas Prize for writing "intended to promote human dignity, meaning and freedom." Both the book and the film were nominated for the USC Libraries Scripter Award 2020 and won AFI Awards.
Leunens married in 1999 and she has been living with her husband and their three children in New Zealand since 2006.
- Primordial Soup (1999)
- Caging Skies (2008)
- A Can of Sunshine (2013)
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- Leunens, Christine (2008). Le ciel en cage. Paris: Editions France Loisirs. ISBN 978-2-298-01402-0.
- Leunens, Christine (2014). Le ciel en cage. Paris: Editions Philippe Rey. ISBN 978-2-84876-426-9.
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- "Golden Globe Awards for 'Jojo Rabbit'".
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- "Taika Waititi says Jojo Rabbit's six Oscar nominations vindicate risks of making 'divisive' film".
- "Writers Guild Awards Honor 'Parasite' and 'Jojo Rabbit'".
- "Taika Waititi jokes about Britain's colonial history as Jojo Rabbit wins a Bafta".
- "Humanitas Prize Awards: 'Jojo Rabbit', 'When They See Us', 'Veep' Among Winners".
- "'Little Women,' 'Jojo Rabbit,' 'The Two Popes' Land Nominations for USC Scripter Awards".
- "AFI Awards: 2019's Top Films, TV Programs Honored as Mel Brooks Praises "Terrific" 'Jojo Rabbit'".