The Last Children of Schewenborn
German edition cover
|Media type||Print (Hardback and paperback)|
The story starts in a present of a Cold War situation similar to that at the time of writing. It is told in the first person by Roland, at the beginning a 12-year-old (in fact, nearly 13) boy from Bonames (a district of Frankfurt), who travels with his parents and sisters to visit his grandparents at Schewenborn.
During this journey they are surprised by a nuclear attack. After the explosion, no assistance arrives from the outside. Survivors start to assume that the whole of Germany, or the entire civilized world, may have been destroyed — but this is never clarified until the end of the novel.
The family finds refuge in the house of the grandparents, who at the time of the nuclear explosion were in Fulda and were probably killed there. Shortly afterwards, Roland's mother takes in a young brother and sister who have been orphaned in the attack.
The later parts of the plot describe the weeks, months and years after this attack, and take place mostly at Schewenborn.
The oppressive story does not have a happy ending. Gradually, members of Roland's family, including a new-born sibling without eyes, die of radiation sickness and other illnesses. At the conclusion, only Roland, his father, and a small group of children—the "last children" of the title—remain alive, and the final paragraphs suggest that they, too, will perish.
The book is clearly written as a cautionary tale which tries to deliver a dramatic warning: "Let no one say afterwards: we did not know."
A rather similar theme, also particularly aimed at a juvenile audience, appears in another book of the same author, Die Wolke (The Cloud). Both books convey the feeling of dark impending danger felt by members of the German Environmentalist Movement of the 1980s.
Awards and nominations
- Buxtehuder Bulle, 1983
- Zürcher Kinderbuchpreis (Zurich Children's Literature Prize)
- Preis der Leseratten
- Gustav-Heinemann-Friedenspreis (Gustav Heinemann Peace Prize)