Christine Leunens

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Christine Leunens
Leunens at the Humanitas Awards, 2020
Leunens at the Humanitas Awards, 2020
Born (1964-12-29) 29 December 1964 (age 57)
Hartford, Connecticut, US
  • New Zealand
  • Belgium
EducationVictoria University of Wellington (PhD)
Harvard University (MLA)
Notable worksPrimordial Soup
Caging Skies
A Can of Sunshine

Christine Leunens (born 29 December 1964) is a New Zealand-Belgian novelist.[1] She is the author of Primordial Soup, Caging Skies, and A Can of Sunshine, which have been translated into over twenty languages.[2] 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,[3][4] and the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay.[5]

Early life[edit]

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,[6] whose years in a German labour camp in WWII would afterwards influence his abstract metal works.[7] As a young child she travelled between Belgium and New Zealand, and soon showed herself to be "obsessively bookish".[8] 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.[8] In the years that followed she posed for magazines Vogue and Marie Claire, fashion designers Givenchy, Pierre Balmain, Paco Rabanne, Sonia Rykiel, Nina Ricci,[8] and played a number of comic roles in TV commercials,[9] such as the betrayed wife in Mercedes-Benz's "The Slap"[10] and the jealous girlfriend in Suzuki's "Baleno".[8]

Literary career[edit]

In 1990, she moved to Picardy and lived a year on a farm breeding horses, and started writing plays.[11] 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.[11] 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.[8] A critical success in 1999, The Sunday Times described it as a "remarkable debut novel",[12] and Publishers Weekly as "kinky, grotesque and very funny" and "not for the faint of heart".[13]

In 2000, she researched the Hitler Youth and WWII Vienna context of Caging Skies at the Memorial de Caen in Normandy.[14] 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".[15] 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".[16] The French translation went through four editions,[17][18] and was nominated for the Prix Médicis étranger in 2007,[19] and the Prix du roman Fnac 2008.[20]

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.[21] 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.[22]" 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.[23][24] 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.[25] The novel received the support of a Creative New Zealand Quick Grant[26] and was selected by the New Zealand Herald as amongst the best books in English worldwide in 2013.[27]

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.[2]

Film director Taika Waititi adapted Caging Skies[28] as the 2019 film Jojo Rabbit.[28][29] Filmed in Prague in spring 2018,[30] starring Waititi,[31][32] Roman Griffin Davis, Scarlett Johansson,[33] Sam Rockwell,[34] Rebel Wilson,[35] Thomasin McKenzie,[36] Stephen Merchant,[37] and Alfie Allen,[38] 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.[33] The film won the People's Choice Award at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival,[39] and was nominated for two Golden Globes,[40] as well as six British Academy of Film and Television Arts Awards,[41] and six Academy Awards, including the Oscar for Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay.[42] It won the Writers Guild of America 2020 Award,[43] as well as the BAFTA[44] and Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, and the Humanitas Prize[45] 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[46] and won AFI Awards.[47]

Currently Leunens is nearing completion of a Franco-New Zealand historical novel, set in Auckland and Paris at the time of the Rainbow Warrior bombing.[7]

Personal life[edit]

Leunens married in 1999 and she has been living with her husband and their three children in New Zealand since 2006.[6]


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


  1. ^ "Leunens, Christine". Read NZ Te Pou Muramura. Retrieved 6 January 2021.
  2. ^ a b Sandys, Elspeth (9 August 2017). "Acclaimed Holocaust novel Caging Skies takes to the stage". New Zealand Listener. Archived from the original on 25 April 2018. Retrieved 20 April 2018.
  3. ^ Thompson, Anne (2019-09-23). "Oscars 2020: Best Adapted Screenplay Predictions". IndieWire. Retrieved 2019-12-09.
  4. ^ Truitt, Brian. "Review: Love's at the heart of Taika Waititi's brilliant Nazi-mocking satire 'Jojo Rabbit'". USA TODAY (in American English). Retrieved 2019-12-09.
  5. ^ "Oscar Winners 2020: See the Full List". Oscar. 2020-02-10. Retrieved 2020-02-10.
  6. ^ a b Flagler, Bette (June 2012). "Happily Ever After". NZ Life & Leisure. No. 43. pp. 102–107.
  7. ^ a b "Nelson". Neighbourhood. Series 6. Episode 4. 2017. TVNZ.
  8. ^ a b c d e Price, Andrea (Spring 2008). "Je t'aime Palmy". Fashion Quarterly: 66–68.
  9. ^ Good Morning (April 2008). "Christine Leunens about her novel Caging Skies". YouTube. Retrieved 14 September 2019.
  10. ^ "Mercedes-Benz : La Gifle (Allemagne - 1995)". CulturePub (in French). Retrieved 14 September 2019.
  11. ^ a b Lane, Eric. "Our Authors & Translators". Dedalus Books. Retrieved 14 September 2019.
  12. ^ Baker, Phil (24 October 1999). "Caging Skies by Christine Leunens". The Sunday Times.
  13. ^ "Fiction Book Review: Primordial Soup by Christine Leunens, Author Dedalus Press $12.99 (196p) ISBN 978-1-873982-19-8". Publishers Weekly. Retrieved 20 April 2018.
  14. ^ Freeman, Lynn (6 August 2017). "Interview with Desirée Gezentsvey and Christine Leunans". Standing Room Only (in en-nz). Radio New Zealand. Retrieved 20 April 2018.{{cite episode}}: CS1 maint: unrecognized language (link)
  15. ^ "Caging Skies / Christine Leunens". Penguin Books New Zealand. Retrieved 14 September 2019.
  16. ^ Soublin, Jean (23 November 2007). "Christine Leunens : une prison de peur et d'amour". Le Monde (in French). Retrieved 14 September 2019.
  17. ^ Leunens, Christine (2008). Le ciel en cage. Paris: Editions France Loisirs. ISBN 978-2-298-01402-0.
  18. ^ Leunens, Christine (2014). Le ciel en cage. Paris: Editions Philippe Rey. ISBN 978-2-84876-426-9.
  19. ^ "Le ciel en cage, de Christine Leunens". Le Figaro (in French). 23 August 2007. Archived from the original on 12 June 2018. Retrieved 14 September 2019.
  20. ^ "Authors - Christine Leunens". Penguin Books Australia. Retrieved 14 September 2019.
  21. ^ "Extension School students and faculty are honored with prizes for outstanding work".
  22. ^ "Writing in Aotearoa right now: a bricolage" (PDF).
  23. ^ "Mothers-in-law—friend or foe?".
  24. ^ "Christine Leunens : A Can of Sunshine".
  25. ^ "Christine Leunens".
  26. ^ "Arts Board Quick Response: Funding recipients".
  27. ^ "Great line-up for Yarns in Barns fest".
  28. ^ a b Towle, Max (16 February 2018). "Taika Waititi is casting his new WWII film". The Wireless. Retrieved 24 April 2018.
  29. ^ Finke, Nikki (17 December 2012). "The Black List 2012: Screenplay Roster". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved 14 September 2019.
  30. ^ Pirodsky, Jason (13 April 2018). "Taika Waititi, Scarlett Johansson to Shoot New Movie in Prague". The Prague Reporter (in American English). Retrieved 20 April 2018.
  31. ^ Travis, Ben (11 June 2018). "Taika Waititi Shares First Hitler Image from Jojo Rabbit". Empire. Retrieved 17 June 2018.
  32. ^ Baig, Mirza (12 June 2018). "'Jojo Rabbit': First Image Shows off Taika Waititi's Imaginary Hitler!!! Check It Out!!". Welcome to Moviz Ark! (in American English). Retrieved 17 June 2018.
  33. ^ a b Katz, Brandon (29 March 2018). "Why We Should All Be Excited for the Next Movie From 'Thor: Ragnarok' Director". Observer (in American English). Retrieved 20 April 2018.
  34. ^ Kit, Borys & Galuppo, Mia (23 April 2018). "Sam Rockwell Joining Scarlett Johansson in Taika Waititi's 'Jojo Rabbit'". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 24 April 2018.
  35. ^ Gonzalez, Umberto (22 May 2018). "Rebel Wilson Joins Cast of Taika Waititi Film 'Jojo Rabbit'". The Wrap (in American English). Retrieved 6 June 2018.
  36. ^ N'Duka, Amanda (31 May 2018). "Taika Waititi's WWII Pic 'Jojo Rabbit' Adds Thomasin McKenzie". Deadline Hollywood (in American English). Retrieved 6 June 2018.
  37. ^ Schaefer, Sandy (19 June 2018). "Logan's Stephen Merchant Cast In Taika Waititi's Jojo Rabbit". Screen Rant (in American English). Retrieved 23 June 2018.
  38. ^ Evangelista, Chris (19 June 2018). "'Game of Thrones' Actor Alfie Allen Joins 'Jojo Rabbit' Cast". /Film (in American English). Retrieved 24 June 2018.
  39. ^ "TIFF 2019: Jojo Rabbit captures TIFF People's Choice Award".
  40. ^ "Golden Globe Awards for 'Jojo Rabbit'".
  41. ^ "Oscars 2020 nominations: Full list of nominees including Joker, Little Women and Jojo Rabbit".
  42. ^ "Taika Waititi says Jojo Rabbit's six Oscar nominations vindicate risks of making 'divisive' film".
  43. ^ "Writers Guild Awards Honor 'Parasite' and 'Jojo Rabbit'".
  44. ^ "Taika Waititi jokes about Britain's colonial history as Jojo Rabbit wins a Bafta".
  45. ^ "Humanitas Prize Awards: 'Jojo Rabbit', 'When They See Us', 'Veep' Among Winners".
  46. ^ "'Little Women,' 'Jojo Rabbit,' 'The Two Popes' Land Nominations for USC Scripter Awards".
  47. ^ "AFI Awards: 2019's Top Films, TV Programs Honored as Mel Brooks Praises "Terrific" 'Jojo Rabbit'".

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