Caging Skies

Christine Leunens

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 Oscar and the Bafta and the AWG for Best Adapted Screenplay; winner of the People’s Choice Award, Toronto Film Festival; winner of the Humanitas Prize and nominated for several other awards. Taika Waititi was also awarded the Ebert Director Award.

Caging Skies

‘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

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)

Caging Skies

‘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 – 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 and Australia
  • Blackstone Audio US
  • Nakladatelství JOTA Czech Republic
  • Varrak Estonia
  • Presenca Portugal
  • Ramos Slovenia
  • Azbooka-Atticus Russia
  • Corint Books Romania
  • Foliant Kazakhstan

Adapted for theatre by Desiree Gezentsvey

Adapted for film by Taika Waititi

Material: finished copies (294pp)