A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne

A Ladder to the Sky

The first thing that became clear to as I read the first few pages of A Ladder to the Sky is that I’ve never despised a character as much as the protagonist, Maurice Swift! Maurice, who came from a humble family, had always dreamt of becoming a world-renown novelist. For him, writing represents a way of becoming immortal, and he has always been quite good at stringing together exquisite sentences. But what good can that achieve when he lacks the imagination to concoct an original plot? It is when Maurice is in his mid-twenties, working as a waiter in a West Berlin hotel, that he finds a solution to this problem. Erich Ackermann, The Prize-winning novelist, is on tour when he happens to dine at the same hotel where Maurice works at, and it doesn’t take long for Maurice to peg Erich an easy mark and con him.

After meeting Maurice, Erich, a lonely man of sixty-five who desperately yearns for companionship, becomes infatuated by him. As a gay man who grew up in Germany during WWII, Erich has a complicated past. When Erich was seventeen, young and inexperienced in love, he had done something stupid that ended up in a catastrophe for five others, and he has never been able to forgive himself. This harrowing secret that Erich has been carrying around for nearly a decade hasn’t let him open up to anyone. But enchanted by the handsome Maurice, Erich pours his heart out to him. In doing so, Erich hopes for absolution and Maurice’s understanding. However, to Maurice, Erich’s pain is an uncharted goldmine that he could exploit! So what follows is an act of theft/ violation of privacy committed by Maurice that makes his mark on the literary world, while ruining Erich in today’s world of keyboard warriors.

A Ladder to the Sky is a fantastic novel with a captivating plot-line and a fitting ending. Not only is it a well-drawn character study (despite my intense dislike for Maurice, I wanted to see how far Maurice will go to keep up this charade and if he’ll get away with it!), but it also made me question what constitutes as plagiarism when it comes to writing and to whom a story really belongs? I appreciated Boyne satirizing the publishing industry too, which sometimes doesn’t have any scruples about profiting from controversies, and is in part responsible for fueling madmen like Maurice!

A Ladder to the Sky is my first five-star read in 2020, and I think many readers will find something to enjoy about it. Warmly recommended!

Note: Many thanks to Hogarth for sending me a review copy of A Ladder to the Sky.

** You can buy a copy of A Ladder to the Sky here on Book Depository with free shipping.


  1. Sounds interesting! From your description I agree that Maurice sounds reprehensible…but sometimes I get sucked into books with unlikeable characters!


  2. This sounds different in a good way. Thanks for the review.


  3. What an intriguing plot! Great review and I’m glad you enjoyed it. 🙂


  4. Literary Elephant · · Reply

    Ooh, I’m glad you loved this one! I really liked it as well, though I wished Maurice’s character had been a bit more nuanced and less blatantly evil. He’s definitely an intriguing character though, and I loved the commentary about the publishing industry! I’ve been meaning to read more of Boyne’s work after this one, but I haven’t gotten around to it yet. Great review!


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