Magdalena (‘Leni’) is an illegitimate child born in a small town steeped in superstition in pre-World War II Germany. Denounced as a source of shame by her devoutly Catholic grandfather and the narrow-minded townspeople, Leni and her mother eke out a living dogged by poverty and prejudice in a country moving inexorably towards war.
With the advance of the Red Army, Leni and her family are stripped of their possessions and forced to survive on their wits, transforming Leni from a meek, cowed girl to breadwinner and protector. She becomes a member of the Hitler youth, while at the same time puzzling over the disappearance of her Jewish friend. Forced to leave school at 14, Leni is confronted with the terrible choice of submitting to secret systematic rape by her employer, or having her mother interned. When she falls pregnant, she is determined to avoid the hardship she endured as a child and marries her Yugoslav boyfriend and migrates to Australia.
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