by Armando Lucas Correa
Why did you choose this book? WWII era novel with a slant I hadn’t read
When did you read this book? October 2016
Who should read this book? Readers of WWII history
Here is a synopsis of The German Girl from Goodreads
A stunningly ambitious and beautiful debut novel, perfect for fans of Sarah’s Key and All the Light We Cannot See, the story of a twelve-year-old girl’s harrowing experience fleeing Nazi-occupied Germany with her family and best friend, only to discover that the overseas asylum they had been promised is an illusion.
In 1939 before everything changed, Hannah Rosenthal lived a charmed life. Her family moved in Berlin’s highest social circles, admired by friends and neighbors. Eleven-year-old Hannah was often taken by her mother for an afternoon treat at the tea room of the beautiful Adlon Hotel, both dressed in their finest clothes. She spent her afternoons at the park with her best friend Leo Martin. But, in an instant, that sunlit world vanished. Now the streets of Berlin are draped with red, white, and black flags; their fine possessions are hauled away, and they are no longer welcome in the places that once felt like home. The two friends make a pact: come what may, they promise to have a future together.
As Hannah and Leo’s families desperately begin to search for a means of escape, a glimmer of hope appears when they discover the Saint Louis, a transatlantic liner that can give Jews safe passage to Cuba. After a frantic search to obtain visas, the Rosenthals and the Martins depart from Hamburg on the luxurious passenger liner bound for Havana. Life aboard the ship is a welcome respite from the gloom of Berlin—filled with masquerade balls, dancing, and exquisite meals every night.
As the passengers gain renewed hope for a bright future ahead, love between Hannah and Leo blossoms. But soon reports from the outside world began to filter in, and dark news overshadows the celebratory atmosphere on the ship; the governments of Cuba, the United States, and Canada are denying the passengers of the St. Louis admittance to their countries, forcing them to return to Europe as it descends into the Second World War. The ship that had seemed their salvation seems likely to become their death sentence.
After four days anchored at bay, only a handful of passengers are allowed to disembark onto Cuban soil, and Hannah and Leo must face the grim reality that they could be torn apart. Their future is unknown, and their only choice will have an impact in generations to come.
Decades later in New York City on her eleventh birthday, Anna Rosen receives a mysterious envelope from Hannah, a great-aunt she has never met but who raised her deceased father. In an attempt to piece together her father’s mysterious past, Anna and her mother travel to Havana to meet Hannah, who is turning eighty-seven years old. Hannah reveals old family ties, recounts her journey aboard the Saint Louis and, for the first time, reveals what happened to her father and Leo. Bringing together the pain of the past with the mysteries of the present, Hannah gives young Anna a sense of their shared histories, forever intertwining their lives, honoring those they loved and cruelly lost.
There were several reasons I picked this one up. The first was the cover, with the ship — it reminded me of the Titanic, and if you know me, you know I am a sucker for Titanic stories! It wasn’t the Titanic, but a ship named the St. Louis, and of course, you must also know I like anything St. Louis (especially my Cardinals!). Then I learned it was a WWII era novel about the Jews who attempted to flee Germany and were left stranded on a ship. I’d heard about this event, but really didn’t know the details, so I wanted to know more.
Unfortunately this book was not all that I’d hoped it would be. It was very slow to get started and even after 100 pages, I was not fully invested in the story. There are two stories being told at the same time in the book and they take place decades apart. One is the story of 11 year old Ann, set in present day New York and Cuba. Anna has grown up without her father and learns she has an elderly great-aunt living in Cuba. The second story is the story of the great-aunt, Hannah; her story begins when she was age 11. The story slips back and forth between the two narrators. Usually I enjoy this method of storytelling, but for some reason it didn’t work for me this time. I think it may be because Anna and Hannah were very similar in personality and experiences, and this made it hard for me to remember whose story I was reading at the time.
The story has parallels with world events today and I think this book will make an excellent book club selection. Topics to discuss include the actions of the various characters in the book and their actions influenced the outcome of the story, the events of WWII, and the how the events of the story relate to the current refugee crisis.
You can watch the book trailer for The German Girl below.
Visit the book page on the publisher’s website to read an excerpt or to learn more about the book and author.
My Rating: ✰✰✰½ 3½ Stars
Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an advanced copy of this book for review purposes.