christine leunens

CHRISTINE LEUNENS is a Belgian-New Zealander, the granddaughter of the Belgian painter, Guillaume Leunens.  She has a Masters’ Degree in English and American Literature and Language from Harvard University and is an award-winning screenwriter. Her first novel PRIMORDIAL SOUP (1999), published in the UK and around the world, was described by the Sunday Times as 'a remarkable debut'. Taika Waititi (WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS, BOY, HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE, THOR RAGNAROK) has filmed her second novel, CAGING SKIES (Film title: ‘Jojo Rabbit’)

For her third novel, A CAN OF SUNSHINE, Christine received a grant from Creative NZ, the Arts Council of New Zealand Toi Aotearoa.


Christine is at work on a new novel and the film script of that novel, as yet untitled. Watch this space.

uk paperback cover caging skies

Nominated for the USC Scripter Award

French edition of the novel nominated for the Prix Medicis and the Prix FNAC


Adapted by Taika Waititi into a major feature film entitled Jojo Rabbit, winner of the People's Choice Award, Toronto Film Festival; winner of the Humanitas Prize. Taika Waititi was also awarded the Ebert Director Award. Winner of the Oscar and the Bafta and the AWG for Best Adapted Screenplay.


'A vivid and deeply compelling novel, Caging Skies is an existential battle of moral and ethical extremes. Christine Leunens is an adept and eloquent storyteller.' Georgia Hunter, New York Times bestselling author of We Were the Lucky Ones


'A non-negotiable must-read... blends satire with dark comedy to examine humanity at its worst. Add to cart, ASAP.' Yahoo Lifestyle


Little by little, Elsa leaked out of her enclosure, strayed out into every corner of the house. The table was two floors below her and on the opposite side of the room and even there she disturbed me, made her presence felt. In my bed at night, she switched places with me, she enjoying the softness of my bed, and I finding myself cramped up in her airless niche.


This extraordinary novel is seen through the eyes of Johannes. An avid member of the Hitler Youth in the 1940s, he discovers his parents are hiding a Jewish girl called Elsa behind a false wall in their large house in Vienna. His initial horror turns to interest, then love and obsession. After the disappearance of his parents, Johannes finds he is the only one aware of Elsa's existence in the house, the only one responsible for her survival. Both manipulating and manipulated, Johannes dreads the end of the war: with it will come the prospect of losing Elsa and their relationship, which ranges through passion and obsession, dependence and indifference, love and hate.


This gripping, masterful work examines truth and lies at both political and personal levels, laying bare the darkest corners of the human soul. An inimitable book that builds upon Leunens’ darkly comic and highly acclaimed first novel, PRIMORDIAL SOUP (Dedalus,1999; ‘a remarkable debut novel…’Sunday Times; ‘highly original’, Cosmopolitan; ‘a small masterpiece.’ Marie Claire.)


'Leunens is a strong writer, her prose supple and darkly engaging. Her depiction of wartime Vienna is nearly cinematic and utterly convincing.' Kirkus


‘The Tattooist of Auschwitz, The Book Thief, The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas – all are brilliant books that give us a glimpse into the Jewish experience during WWII. Caging Skies is no exception – and might be the most brilliant of them all…
This moving story draws its power from so many levels. There is the nail-biting tension of the plot, the fear for the reader that Elsa will be discovered, with all the attendant repercussions for Johannes.
There is the atmospheric description of wartime life in Austria, where people try to carry on as normal in face of food shortages, air-raids and public hanging.
There is the elegant prose of the story, which is told with pathos, dark humour and sharp insight.
Then there are the characters. Herr and Frau Betzler, with their dignity and strength; old Frau Betzler with her wisdom and affection; Elsa with her courage – passive in her enforced imprisonment but never spiritless.
And of course there is Johannes himself. What are we to make of him? The spoilt arrogant Aryan teenager develops and grows before our eyes – but not in ways you might expect of a hero-saviour of a vulnerable young girl. Yes he is strong and courageous, but his obsessive behaviour leads us to question whether he is more captor than protector of the young girl in his care. Is Johannes himself truly free, or as much a victim of Hitler’s brainwashing as the Jewish girl forced to hide for her life?
Will either ever be truly free?
Disturbing, moving, eminently readable – this is a story you won’t be able to put down.’ MyWeekly


‘A bold novel of great fierceness, insight, and emotional savagery. I admire Leunens’s refusal to soft-soap anything, even as, while reading, I had to put the book down and pace around the room. But if you stick with Caging Skies, you’ll get an entire era distilled into two people, a Tolstoyan marvel… Caging Skies re-creates an era from the inside, and lovers of the literary will find plenty to admire.’ Historical Novel Society - Caging Skies Author Talks WWII, Hitler Youth and Upcoming Film “Jojo Rabbit” (read the interview)


'Totally compelling.' Woman’s Weekly NZ


'The best part of this interesting novel is its ability to show parts of our history which others dismiss: why suffering can make some people more sensitive but others more cruel, and how a war, such an outrage to human dignity, blurs the line between the victorious and defeated.' Elle


‘Fascinates and leaves a rare impression of strangeness and power.’

Le Nouvel Observateur


‘Leunens has created a powerful, imaginative and clever psychological drama.’ Nelson Mail


'It is a beautiful novel, powerful, different, and ambitious. It explores a less rare from of relationship, it appears, than one believes: love so total that it locks up, isolates and colonises the partner until destruction; annihilates the outside world. This kind of passion naturally implies the lie, the dressing up of realities and the construction of a wall to protect itself. It’s without a doubt in the malaise one feels when reading Caging Skies that one recognises the surprising, surprising power of the novel. A profound malaise, which lasts well after the read, sign of a very rare power, that of a truly good book, which knows how to carry the reader into a story. Christine Leunens [. . .] always has the immense merit of surprising and captivating. Caging Skies is one of these books that cannot be forgotten.' Jean Soublin, Le Monde


'Christine Leunens’ novel Caging Skies begins in Austria at the time of its annexation to the German Reich. Narrator Johannes Betzler is [. . .] a boy who innocently embraces the Nazi dream. He becomes a member of the Hitler Youth but soon makes a devastating discovery: his parents are hiding Elsa, a young Jewish woman, behind a false wall in their house. That parents became afraid of their children is an electrifying element of the time. It’s rich ground for fiction. The Betzler family is a vital, believable group. For the reader, drawn into the subtle interactions of the Betzler house, Leunens’ clear, elegant prose and sometimes blackly comic tone, this would be satisfying enough. There is more to come, however. The madness of the war has entered Johannes.' Charlotte Grimshaw, New Zealand Listener


'A novel that breaks all the rules. In spite of this, or maybe because of it, the result is a disturbing and gripping novel that has haunted me ever since I finished reading it.' New Zealand Books


'A complex story of dark love.' R. Garzon, El País


'An analysis of the uncontrollable fecundity of a lie, which gives way to life and concrete experience. The lie doesn’t mystify or disown reality, but rather becomes the plasma of one’s desires and the adjusting to one’s necessities. The liar himself falls into a spiral of self deception until he consciously cages himself in a virtual universe, whereby the internal truth and false, fiction and authentic constitute one.' Ruggero Bianchi in La Stampa



Planeta Spain (Spain and Latin America and Catalan)

SEM Editore Italy

Editions Philippe Rey France

Random House New Zealand

Yolimwon Korea

Bence Kitap Turkey

Vulkan Serbia

Bertrand Brasil

Athenaeum Hungary

Zysk Poland

Leo Commerce Croatia

Beijing White Horse, Simplified Chinese Characters, China

Overlook/Abrams USA

John Murray UK

Blackstone Audio US

Nakladatelství JOTA Czech Republic

Varrak Estonia

Presenca Portugal

Alica Slovenia

Azbooka-Atticus Russia

Corint Books Romania

Adapted for the theatre by Desiree Gezentsvey

Film inspired by CAGING SKIES on general release, director Taika Waititi, studio Fox Searchlight. Scarlett Johansson stars as Johannes's mother, Taika Waititi as a Hitler/father figure/invisible friend and Sam Rockwell as a Hitler Youth Camp captain (Rebel Wilson and Stephen Merchant too). Elsa is played by Tomasin McKenzie and Johannes by new-comer Roman Griffin Davis. Film title JOJO RABBIT Nominated for Golden Globes; DGA Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Feature Film; Golden Globes for best comedy and best male actor in a comedy; Hollywood Critics Awards etc

Material: finished copies (404 pp). NEW ABRIDGED VERSION AVAILABLE (310pp).

Creative NZ LogoA Can of Sunshine





A new novel starring a woman, her mother-in-law and a dog. Alternately hilarious and heart-wrenching, Leunens’s characters are vividly drawn they become your family. Nancy was not expecting to marry both Michael and his mother, the extraordinary, excruciating, witty and ominipresent Edith. Nancy specifically told Edith they didn’t want a dog but she brings an old smelly bulldog for her granddaughter Chloe’s seventh birthday anyway; Nancy and Michael finally get away to Fiji and who should appear? Did Edith fake her heart attack to get her son to choose her over Nancy once again? Through joy and tragedy Edith remains a powerful presence in Nancy’s life and in the end it is Edith’s example, the way she embraces life to the very end, that gives Nancy the strength to be herself and love life again.


'A compelling read that will resonate with any mother or daughter-in-law who wouldn't necessarily be friends, if not for their common ground.' NZ Herald


'We meet three generations of women in the first few pages... these women are in-depth characters... the dialogue is superb... everybody should pick up A Can of Sunshine by Christine Leunens.' Bookenz, Plains FM


'Is the rivalry between the proverbial mother-in-law and daughter-in-law really necessary or is it just an urban legend? It is this family relationship that is at the heart of A Can of Sunshine by Christine Leunens, with all the contradictions, emotions and vicissitudes that two people connected only by affection for the son/husband may face in the course of a lifetime... Christine Leunens tells the story in a masterful way as she sheds light on this swinging relationship...
A Can of Sunshine is a novel about love, loneliness, and the joys, sorrows and conflicts that life places before us. But it is also and above all a novel about three generations of women, each of whom finds, in a different way, strength within herself to stand up and fight back, to recover and reinvent a life even when everything around them seems to indicate that there is no way out. A book about hope for the future.' Flanerí


'Dedicated to those who detest the predetermination of social roles, and who want to investigate the complicity of the soul of every woman.' Le Nuove Mamme


'The often charged mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationship is explored by American-born author Christine Leunens in A Can of Sunshine. Now living in the Manawatu, Christine's new novel looks at how the idiosyncratic mother-in-law proves to be both a blessing and an occasional curse for a solo mother. Nancy is an American living in New Zealand and when her world is turned upside down she needs the help of the interfering Edith. The mother-in-law in the novel, Edith, is actually quite a complicated character once one gets to know her; ultimately she's a lonely soul and she's struggling with getting old.' Arts on Sunday, National Radio


'The story has appeal and intelligence.' New Zealand Listener


'Christine Leunens spent four years working on a doctoral thesis, whose subject was mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relations, and it’s indeed this theme, rarely explored, that is at the heart of this novel. With great finesse, Christine Leunens dissects the moving relationship between Edith and Nancy with their awkwardness, their fall outs, their tender moments too, and delivers a sensitive novel that... is also of great intelligence and remarkable originality.' Book of the Weekend, Radio Classique



RSVP Publishing New Zealand

Editions Philippe Rey France

Meridiano Zero/Odoya Italy

Material: finished copies (258pp).