Category: Children's Books

Ute Krause
Im Labyrinth der Lügen
[In the Labyrinth of Lies]


Adventure and Ancient Times

This thrilling novel for children aged 10 years and up takes place in 1984. The year was chosen carefully: we are in the midst of a surveillance society, which in many ways is reminiscent of George Orwell’s classic "1984." It is the GDR, a society dominated by lies and an intricate network of spies, various mechanisms of oppression, a petty criminal bartering system, deadly maneuvers to escape the regime, "unofficial collaborators" of the secret service, and censorship – it is a world today’s children can hardly imagine, or conceive that it ever had existed on German soil, let alone that such regimes, unfortunately, remain a horrifying reality today in many countries in the world.

In her new children's novel, „Im Labyrinth der Lügen", Ute Krause describes this reality without pathos, and in prose that is simple and easy to understand. The entire political context, as well as the facts necessary for a child to understand the period, are woven inconspicuously into the story of twelve year old Paul. There is no finger pointing, nor is anybody being denounced. The reader is provided with the same level of knowledge as Paul and, as he does, tries to make sense out of the enigmatic story he suddenly has gotten mixed up in.

Paul lives with his grandmother and his uncle Henry in East Berlin. His parents had attempted to flee with him to the West two years before, but somebody had betrayed the family. The parents were sent to prison and Paul was forced to live in one of the gruesome children's homes, until his courageous grandmother rescued him and his parents were ransomed by the West. We learn little by little the mysterious circumstances surrounding the boy’s life and what had traumatized him, yet Paul barely remembers any of it himself.

One day Paul and his girlfriend Millie visit his Uncle Henry, who is a night watchman at the Pergamon Museum. (After Henry’s brother had tried to flee, he was no longer allowed to study archaeology, the grandmother also lost her job as a librarian and works as a restroom attendant at the Hotel Metropol.) One night, the children discover a stranger in the museum, there is an uproar and chase scene, and they briefly suspect the uncle of being involved in theft or dealing in stolen goods.

The uncle offers an entirely different explanation for his actions: he tells them he is doing secret research on the Ishtar Gate, which is located in the museum. Soon the plot thickens: the uncle is picked up by the police, put under Stasi surveillance after his release, and then he loses his job. Paul and Millie try to help him, but their actions endanger the entire family. In fact, the uncle hadn’t been conducting scientific research for a long time, rather he’d been involved in political resistance. Not until the end, when the intricate strands of the story are unwoven, is Paul allowed to leave for the West and reunite with his parents.

If at first it might appear that Ute Krause’s children’s novel could drift into spook stories and fantasy, it quickly becomes clear that „Im Labyrinth der Lügen" is both a thrilling escape and detective story with an authentic historical background. It also makes readers curious about the ancient world. Sculptures, friezes, cuneiform and hieroglyphics create a colorful and fascinating backdrop for the mysterious plot. Ancient times, the Arab world and adventure all wrapped into one.

Ute Krause treats her characters with palpable sympathy, yet she does not pity them. The hands-on grandmother, the unworldly uncle and, last but not least, Paul, are all convincingly drawn and readers can easily relate to their feelings. Children need that - as well as a happy ending! The book also offers a very sweet praise of friendship. Millie was "…the very best friend [Paul] ever had, and surely the wisest." What could possibly go wrong?
Sylvia Schwab

By Sylvia Schwab, 22.11.2016

​Sylvia Schwab is a radio journalist with a special interest in literature for children and teenagers. She serves on the jury for the monthly ‘Best 7’ list of books for young readers produced under the aegis of Deutschlandfunk and Focus, and works for Hessischer Rundfunk, Deutschlandfunk and Deutschlandradio-Kultur.

Translated by Zaia Alexander