One of the things that I’ve missed most about the pre-Covid world, is the ability to browse. So many of my very favourite children’s books have been fluke finds in charity shops or the library. From The Year At Maple Hill Farm, to Rosy’s Garden and the myriad of titles in between, these small-print-run, out-of-print gems have quickly become family favoruites.
Bambert’s Book of Missing Stories by Reinhardt Jung is another book which fits this description.
I don’t know whether I can properly call this a ‘browsing’ find, but it was down to a hunger for running my fingers along a shelf of spines which led me to it. Bored, uninspired, and stuck in a rut, I went searching for videos of other peoples’ bookshelves on YouTube. I eventually stumbled on the videos of Leena Norms, and in particular, one of her bookshelf tours. And in that tour, she mentioned Bambert’s Book of Missing Stories.
At its core, this book is a collection of very short tales, but beyond that, it also chronicles the man who gathers these stories together. Old and in pain, the eponymous Bambert writes himself stories as a way to combat loneliness. One day, he settles on the idea of releasing his work into the world so that it can find its own setting.
I bought the book before I’d even finished hearing the plot.
I have always been, and always will be, a total romantic when it comes to story telling. The stories around stories – the tales of the writers and the bards – make my heart sing.
And Bambert’s Book of Missing Stories is that – a book about a book – but it’s also so much more.
The writer – Reinhardt Jung – was born in Germany in 1949, and some of the themes in Bambert’s tales seem to deal with the country’s fascist past. The text doesn’t do this overtly, but the story about the glass rafts is clearly about the concentration camps of the Nazi regime. Another two stories deal with war directly, with children as protagonists.
It might sound, at this point, like the book is a somewhat dark affair, but it really isn’t. Interlaced through the stories are insights into Bambert’s life, and the budding, gentle friendship which forms with the shopkeeper in the store below. It’s a rare tale about men befriending one another in a way that is supportive and caring. This happens so seldom in children’s literature that I feel it merits a mention.
A few points of note: the protagonist drinks to forget his pain, both he and the shopkeeper smoke cigars, and there is character death (though this is dealt with tenderly and poetically). The book touches on love and disability, and the fact that these things may not necessarily go hand-in-hand. It is a work which – for my part – I feel needs to be debriefed with older children, or read aloud to younger children to facilitate discussion about the events it contains.
But it should absolutely be read and enjoyed by children.
We don’t give young people enough credit for the levels of complexity that they’re able to process, and we can be neglectful when it comes to providing stories which deal in shades of grey, or which deal with death, or disappointment. But by showing them examples of these things in literature, we can better equip them for when life is less than ideal – by getting to know Bambert, for example, they might come to know that they’re not alone in feeling lonely.
I would love to hear your opinions on Bamburt’s Book of Missing Stories, if you’ve read it. And I would love to hear if you know of any other books which provide challenging content.