Title: The German Girl
Author: Armando Lucas Correa
Publisher: 1 December 2016 by Simon and Schuster (Australia)
Pages: 368 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: historical fiction, world war II
My Rating: 5 crowns
Before everything changed, Hannah Rosenthal lived a charmed life. But now the streets of Berlin are draped in swastikas and Hannah is no longer welcome in the places she once considered home.
A glimmer of hope appears in the shape of the St Louis, a transatlantic liner that promises Jews safe passage to Cuba. The Rosenthals sell everything to fund visas and tickets. At first the liner feels like luxury, but as they travel the circumstances of war change, and it soon becomes their prison.
Seven decades later in New York, on her twelfth birthday Anna Rosen receives a package from Hannah, the great-aunt she never met but who raised her deceased father. Anna and her mother immediately travel to Cuba to meet this elderly relative, and for the first time Hannah tells them the untold story of her voyage on the St Louis.
‘We would belong forever to the exiles, to the people nobody wanted, the ones who had been forced from their homes since the dawn of time.’
I consider myself a fairly well-read person, but this, I knew nothing about. This is the story of the St. Louis, a ship that promised safe passage from Germany to Cuba, in May 1939. The ship’s 937 passengers were almost all Jews fleeing the Third Reich and seeking asylum. This is truly an unforgettable debut novel and congratulations to Correa for bringing this little known event to the public spotlight. For you see, only 28 were allowed to disembark in Cuba, and the remaining were forced to sail back as few countries would accept them. Powerful stuff, and as expressed in the book:
‘By shedding light onto the tragedies of our past, Correa invites us to reflect on the troubles that are still impacting refugees all over the world today.’
Correa bases a fictional story around the 1939 Saint Louis journey and there is just much to love about this book. I loved the story of Hannah and Leo so much, their relationship is memorably heartbreaking. Not to mention the heroic captain, Gustav Schroder, that will have you running to Google more on the short and long term fallout of the whole disaster. I was also fascinated by the parallels drawn between Nazi Germany and Communist Cuba - something I had never considered. Then there are the rich and evocative descriptive scenes set in Berlin, the St Louis and Cuba which are vivid and real.
‘We, the ridiculously gullible ones, had believed the Ogres when they authorized us to leave after handing over our businesses, our homes, our fortunes. How on earth could we have been so stupid as to trust them?’
The story alternates between that of Hannah and Anna, their joys and heartbreaks, their friendships and fears. Given the material for this story, you might be thinking it is depressing - and no doubt there is plenty of tragedy that is confronting; however, it will move you in a more reflective way. It is powerful and emotional, with moments of joy that brought a lump to my throat. Let’s be frank, even after all these years the author bravely presents a fresh angle on a sensitive topic. But gosh! It is done well. I would go as far as to say this is a stunning debut novel that moved me to my core.
“Millions of men with no work. Millions of children with no future. Save the German people!” I am German, too. Who was going to save me?”
I highly recommend this book to historical fiction fans. Take Hannah’s hand and run along the streets of Berlin, sail to Cuba with her and hold her hand even tighter as she finally confronts her memories and promises made. ‘The German Girl’ will pull at your heartstrings and rates as one of my best reads for 2017.
“Every day I wonder why I’m still alive!” she whispers, suddenly bursting into tears.
This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release