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Leunens, Christine
Writer's File

Christine Leunens

Leunens, Christine
In brief
Christine Leunens has dual New Zealand and Belgian citizenship, and she currently lives and writes in Nelson. Born in the USA to an Italian mother and Belgian father, Leunens moved to Paris as a teenager where she worked as a photo model for leading fashion houses. She received a Master's from Harvard, has travelled widely and published books in the United Kingdom, United States and New Zealand, with translations into seventeen languages. She moved to New Zealand in 2006. Her novels include Caging Skies (Random House New Zealand, 2008 and 2019) and A Can of Sunshine (RSVP Publishing, 2013).


Leunens, Christine (29 December 1964) was born in Connecticut, USA, to an Italian mother and Belgian father. She moved to Paris as a teenager, where she worked as a photo model for many leading fashion houses, before gaining a Master of Liberal Arts in English and American Literature and Language from Harvard University.

Her first book, Primordial Soup (Dedalus Books, 1999 and 2019), was published in the United Kingdom and translated into Dutch, Italian, Russian and Czech. The story of a young woman whose attitudes to sex and food have been warped by the eccentric behaviour of her Lithuanian mother, it has been described as ‘kinky, grotesque and very funny’ (Publisher’s Weekly).

Caging Skies
(Random House New Zealand, 2008 and 2019) was nominated for a Prix FNAC and Prix Médicis award and has been translated into over fifteen languages. It was adapted into a film (Jojo Rabbit) by New Zealand filmmaker Taika Waititi. Set in Austria during the Second World War, it is a gripping story of a young boy, a member of the Hitler Youth, whose life becomes entangled in secrets and obsession. Charlotte Grimshaw in the New Zealand Listener wrote of Leunens' ‘clear, elegant prose and sometimes blackly comic tone’. Other reviewers commented that ‘Leunens has an ear for language and the ability to create a vividly sensual world for her characters’ (Otago Daily Times) and described it as ‘an imaginative novel, daring, singular, adventurous’ (David Hill on Nine to Noon, Radio NZ National).

A Can of Sunshine
(RSVP Publishing) was released in 2013. It arose from her doctoral studies in Creative Writing at Victoria University of Wellington, which she embarked upon in 2008 and completed in 2012. The novel was finalised for publication with the assistance of a grant from Creative New Zealand in 2012. Translation rights have been sold to France and Italy.

Lynn Freeman said of the book on the Arts on Sunday programme on Radio NZ National, 'Now living in the Manawatu, Christine's new novel looks at how the idiosyncratic mother-in-law proves to be both a blessing and an occasional curse for a solo mother.' Shandelle Battersby selected A Can of Sunshine for the NZ Herald Canvas Magazine's 'The Books Issue'. Battersby wrote that A Can of Sunshine 'is a compelling read that will resonate with any mother or daughter-in-law who wouldn’t necessarily be friends, if not for their common ground.' The novel was selected for the New Zealand Herald's Best Books of the Year List 2013.

In February 2020, Taika Waititi won an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for Jojo Rabbit, the film based on Leunens' book Caging Skies.

Christine has just written a new novel, set at the time of the Rainbow Warrior bombing, and a screenplay adaptation of it, taken for production. Both share the same title, In Amber’s Wake.