HomeThe Handkerchief Map

Buy Now

The Handkerchief Map

Everywhere shots are fired, still people are crying, still cities are being destroyed, still we’re waiting for the end, but even when the end arrives, there will still be tears, still people will suffer, still there will be sadness. The struggle will not end when the last shot is fired.

A coming-of-age epistolary novel written as a series of letters from people involved in World War II writing to their loved ones.

In this extraordinary novel set in World War II, three characters reveal their most intimate thoughts on the conflict. Franz, a young Nazi soldier has begun to question the rightness of the cause. Helga is a Russian girl bent on joining the resistance. Susanna is a Jewess who has been separated from her husband and children and condemned to the cruelty of a concentration camp.

This work is remarkable because the author wrote it while still a high school student in Australia, with no direct contact with survivors of the war. Several years on, she returned to it with the benefit of further research and experience to recreate this gripping tale.

Sure to be loved by readers of Marcus Zusak’s The Book Thief or The Diary of Anne Frank.

Nominated for the NSW Premier’s Literary Award for Young Writers.


ISBN 9781922120861 (PB, 92 pp; 140mm x 216mm)

AU $17 US
CA $17 NZ
GB £11 €13

ISBN 9781922120878 (eBook)

AU $8 US
GB £6 €7


This novella, in three vignettes in the form of letters, written by three young Europeans, simply and eloquently expresses their multiple viewpoints on the World War 2 conflict. The three characters, poignantly recount the turmoil of their own daily existence and their hopes for the future to recipients who they desperately need to believe are still surviving. These three ordinary young people are forced into extraordinary roles by the Nazi war machine.

Recently promoted from the Hitler Youth Movement to become a Nazi boy soldier, Franz writes to his Mother as he questions his loyalties to the Nazi regime.  He resents being an agent of a tyrannical aggressor. Helga writes to her friend Olga about her dislocation and desperation and her urgent need to continue as a partisan fighter with the Russian Resistance where she must take life for the cause of freedom to help end the pointless destruction and suffering.  A comfort for Helga is the white map handkerchief, embroidered in black thread which had dried the tears of Olga’s mother in WW1. Susannah, as a Jewish young woman, imprisoned in Bergen-Belsen, writes on precious scraps of paper  to her husband and children from whom she has been cruelly separated. She realises she may be a potential victim of the Nazi genocide of the Jews. The slowly unfolding stories from Belsen in Poland to Germany, Russia and Denmark are cleverly connected in the end and explain much of the incidental history of the conflict while delivering a message of hope and human compassion.

Written by Kiri English-Hawke when she was a schoolgirl, this short, insightful narrative affirms that the current generation of young people are still affected and troubled by the Holocaust of WW2 when ordinary citizens’ lives were scarred by an horrific and hideous conflict that made no sense.  It is a remarkable achievement as it offers a very positive picture on the resilience of the human spirit in the landscape of war.

– Lorraine Dobbie, Compulsive Reader

This is a most imaginatively conceived and executed account of the experiences of three young people in WW2 told through letters that they write to their mother, friend and husband respectively.

They are written simply yet convey profound emotions and much incidental history of the war. The letters are made all the more poignant as none of them knows the situation of their loved ones.

Their stories are connected in the end in a clever, convincing manner. It is a slender book, with some pages carrying only one brief letter. Although the ending promises hope, the slowly unfolding stories conveyed in the cumulation of the letters make the book a restrained elegy, a remarkable achievement for its Australian schoolgirl author.

Highly Recommended. Ages 10-16.

An outstanding book of its kind as recommended by the reviewer."

– The Free Online Library, Farlex

Most 16-year-old girls spend time focused on social networking and the next designer brand they will wear. Then you have Leichhardt’s Kiri English- Hawke, 16, who has not only written a novel but has delved into one of the darkest periods in humanity, the Holocaust.

The idea for her book, The Handkerchief Map, began when she was in year 7, beginning as a poem, then a creative piece of prose, then in letter form."

– Rashell Habib, Inner West Courier

Written in three vignettes, The Handkerchief Map is comprised of fictional heart-wrenching letters written to loved ones whose fate is unknown. There is Franz, a young Nazi solider who questions the righteousness of his cause, a Russian resistance fighter, Helga, who writes passionately about the necessity of the resistance, and Susannah, a prisoner in the Bergen Belsen concentration camp, who writes longingly on scraps of paper to her husband after their cruel and painful separation. The novella, a fine example of young emerging Australian authors displaying incredible capabilities and promise, weaves hope and compassion, and displays great insight into the lives of ordinary people facing extraordinary circumstances.

Although written by a teenager for teenagers, The Handkerchief Map is suitable for readers of all ages, with its enduring themes of love and loss. The novella – available in a paperback and an eBook version from reiter@ipoz.biz – would be a perfect resource for Holocaust studies, humanities’ courses, or as a prescribed English text in any Australian school, given its historically and culturally accurate setting, and its simple language.

– Michael Cohen, Jewish Holocaust Centre, Melbourne

The Handkerchief Map is written in three vignettes, composed as letters written by young people to loved ones of whose fate they are unaware. There is Franz, the boy soldier recently promoted from Hitler Youth, who writes to his mother about the change in his heart; Russian resistance fighter Helga writes to her best friend Olga about the insanity of the war and the necessity for resistance; and Susannah, imprisoned in Bergen Belsen, writes on scraps of paper to a husband from whom she has cruelly been separated.
Yet it is not a book of doom and gloom. The author manages to weave hope, compassion and insight into the lives of ordinary people who find themselves in extraordinary circumstances."

Byron Shire Echo

Sometimes historical events are related to us in ways that seem so removed from our everyday. Kiri’s inspired use of letters from three young people during WWII and the Holocaust allows for an immersion into raw feelings, devastating experiences and difficult decisions and hopefully reminds us of what young people are experiencing in and through other conflicts around the world right now. If this is the author at 16 what will she write at 26?"

– Dr Maria Pallotta-Chiarolli, School of Health and Social Development, Deakin University

Based on personal field research in Europe, and a study of the camps of Germany, the book is no flight of fantasy but an engrossing story to which the narrative adds emotional strength in a tone that is meditative and lyrical, incised by memories of loss and pain. An authentic voice, a noble story of the human spirit, of survival, love and hope. Unforgettable."

– Peter Skrzynecki, author of Immigrant Chronicles


Kiri English-Hawke

Kiri English-Hawke is an Australian born author who grew up in Sydney hearing stories of WWII from differing perspectives. Her first novel, The Handkerchief Map, draws on her desire to portray the less explored perspectives and experiences of the Holocaust.

She currently lives in Northern Italy with her partner, where she is studying languages, and continues to write and immerse herself in foreign cultures and histories. She is a voracious reader and dedicated researcher who has been penning her thoughts since she learned to write.

Kiri currently works as a translator and English tutor. In her ‘spare time’, she excels at rowing at an international level and blogs about healthy foods.


Learn more about the Holocaust:

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum: Online exhibitions

Jewish Museum Berlin: Information for students and teachers

Yad Vashem, the World Center for Holocaust Research, Education, Documentation and Commemoration

Sydney Jewish Museum

Kiri's interview in The Good Oil


Part One: Mother

Obergebiete Training Camp (Germany)

November 27, 1943

Dear Mother,

There are lots of men here, young men mostly. There is a group of us in a room, about eight or so. Four of us get along well. We are at one end of the room. I bunk with Heinrich, and Johann and Stein are together. Each of the boys is very different. They are not all blonde and blue-eyed as it was in the Hitler Youth.

Heinrich is the oldest and he seems very backwards about the war, no pride at all. He has a wife and children back home in Berlin, whom he’s constantly writing to and worrying about.

Johann is 24 and I’m fairly sure he’s just in it for the glamour and the uniform, not that any of us really had a choice, or needed one. He’s always talking about the girls we’ll meet on leave. Personally I don’t have a lot of time for him. I can only take so much, and then he begins to drive me mad.

Stein is a quiet sort. He walks with us but isn’t as conversational as the others. I’m not entirely sure what his views on the war are, and I’m not likely to find out. I can’t help my curiosity, but in the middle of a war people are careful about what they hear and what they say for fear of saying the wrong thing to the wrong person. Or making the wrong face ... unless the truth is written all over the face like Johann!

Your loving son



Obergebiete (Germany)

December 14, 1943

Dear Mother,

How are you Mother? I wonder are the shops still open, can you still buy Strasbourg and sausage? There is none of that here, although there is enough food. We have another week or two until training is finished, then it’s the real thing. No more tests, no more excusable mistakes; a single shot and that could be it. It all sounds very serious, doesn’t it?

Mail deliveries are erratic, but do please write when you can get stamps. We all wish for letters.

Your loving son




December 25, 1943

Dear Mother,

Well, Mother, it will be a lonely Christmas this year, for all of us.

Do you remember the Christmas of 1941? We were sure it would all be over by now. We gave it a year at the most, but it’s still going on.

Training finished some days ago and we have been thrust unceremoniously into the wide open war. Days pass, nights pass and still this dreadful thing continues. Everywhere shots are fired, still people are crying, still cities are being destroyed, still we’re waiting for the end, but even when the end arrives, there will still be tears, still people will suffer, still there will be sadness. The struggle will not end when the last shot is fired. Sorry to be bleak, Mother, but I am seeing things that shock me now.

So, Merry Christmas, Mother, and a peaceful New Year – I hope. Make it as happy as possible. Sorry I’m not there and father too. I hope you get some good meat for Christmas dinner.

Your loving son



Read more on Google Books