‘Neither Germans nor communists will keep me from a fish steak this Christmas Eve.’
‘What does German look like?’ Lucja asked.
‘Like a communist’, Grandpa Feliks said crossly. ‘But with better boots.’
If you’re after an original, heartwarming Christmas book without the usual turkey or trimmings, then look no further than The Fish in the Bathtub. Eoin Colfer, the writer of the Artemis Fowl thrillers, takes us back to Warsaw in the late 1970s.
It’s a city under communist control, and still bearing the scars of the Nazi occupation thirty years before.
But that means little to Lucja, an eight year old girl who has a very different outlook on the world than her Grandpa who can’t leave the past behind.
When Grandpa Feliks buys a live blackmarket fish for Christmas dinner it’s as much a stand against the decades long oppression he’s been living under as it is a seasonal meal. For Lucja it is Mr Fishy, a brand new friend with whom she spends every waking minute. Which is unusual because Lucja isn’t usually able to keep anything in her head for more than a few seconds. ‘Ideas bounced around in there like beads in a rattle.’
There is more than a generation gap between Lucja and her Grandpa. She reminded me very much of David Almond’s Mina, another girl who thinks differently. Like Skellig and My Name is Mina this story’s power lies in the central character’s strength of mind and sense of injustice – something that will appeal to any child.
Things come to a head on Christmas Eve when the time comes to remove the fish from the bathtub, ready for the dinner table. The stand off between Lucja and her grandfather is tense, with forty years of bitter history coming to the surface.
‘Can’t?’ he said. ‘I won’t be told “can’t” in my own house. Not by Hitler. Not by Stalin. And not by you! That fish is my dinner and I won’t be beaten again’
I’ve read the book three times now and the ending has made me cry every time. Colfer, and illustrator Peter Bailey have created a book that encapsulates the meaning of Christmas, without falling back on a single cliche. Bravo.
The Fish in the Bathtub is published by Barrington Stoke. It’s printed on dyslexia friendly cream paper.