All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: The German Girl by Armando Lucas Correa

on January 5, 2017

german-girlThe German Girl
Armando Lucas Correa
Atria Books
2016, 342p
Copy courtesy of Simon & Schuster AUS

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

Before everything changed, Hannah Rosenthal lived a charmed life. But now, in 1939, the streets of Berlin are draped with red, white, and black flags; her family s fine possessions are hauled away; and they are no longer welcome in the places that once felt like home. Hannah and her best friend, Leo Martin, make a pact: come what may, they promise to have a future together.

A glimmer of hope appears in the form of the “St. Louis,” a transatlantic liner that can provide Jews safe passage to Cuba. After a frantic search to obtain visas, the Rosenthals and the Martins depart on the luxurious ship bound for Havana. Life on board the “St. Louis” is like a surreal holiday for these refugees, with masquerade balls, exquisite meals, and polite, respectful service. But soon ominous rumors from Cuba overshadow the celebratory atmosphere, and the ship that once was their salvation seems likely to become their death sentence. Hannah and Leo must make an impossible choice or risk losing everything that matters.

Seven decades later in New York City, on her twelfth birthday, Anna Rosen receives a package 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 this elderly relative. Hannah tells them of her astonishing journey on the “St. Louis” and, for the first time, reveals how she and Leo honored the solemn pact they had made. By connecting the pain of the past to the mysteries of the present, Hannah gives her young great-niece a sense of their shared histories, forever intertwining their lives, honoring those they loved and cruelly lost.

What an interesting book this was. I love how reading fiction can still provide you with information that you didn’t know before. Prior to reading this book I didn’t know anything about the SS St Louis which is actually a real ship that was declined access to Cuba’s port carrying a load of Jewish passengers fleeing the Hitler regime in Germany. It brings to mind the current situation that is a contentious issue in Australia even today, some 80 years later – boat people fleeing their situation only to be denied entry to the country when they reach it. It seems the more things change, the more the stay the same. It’s just a different group of people being demonised each time.

Hannah is a young Jewish girl living in Germany in 1939. Her mother’s family seem to have a lot of wealth and her father is a very respected University lecturer or at least he was before Jewish people were classed as lower citizens. Whereas people used to welcome her mother everywhere, envied her beautiful dresses and jewels, Hannah and her family are now seen as “unclean” or “dirty”, something she doesn’t really understand. Although Hannah is Jewish her looks actually epitomise the Aryan ideal which allow her to move with some freedom around her neighbourhood. Hannah and her family are basically sitting on a timer…..there’s only so long until they’ll have to get out of Germany and they are frantically trying to organise that before her father is taken away, like some others have been. When they board the SS St Louis with her childhood friend Leo and his father it seems like they will be safe and free at last.

It’s always interesting reading about this period in history from the point of a child because to me their inability to understand really underlines the ridiculousness of prejudice. Hannah takes the muttered statements about being dirty or unclean as literal criticism and her confusion is obvious. She’s no dirtier than anyone else and her family have always been deferred to in many ways prior to this. Her attempts to understand are very well written and I thought that the childlike innocence versus the struggle of what is occurring during a time like this was captured very well. Hannah is a really interesting character (the book starts with a heck of an opening line) and I loved her narration and her portrayal of the adult relationships operating around her. Her friendship with Leo is very sweet and although they’re both very young, they’ve already made plans for their future. So much is uncertain but they’re still kids who believe that they’ll always be in each other’s lives, no matter what.

At times, some of the story is pretty grim. As they do escape Germany it’s not the camps grim but more along the lines of what some people will do to avoid being taken to those camps kind of grim. And I found that as a parent, although the idea was horrible, I could understand it.

I have to admit that although the modern day portion of the story was fine, I wasn’t particularly engaged with it. I merely kept going with it because it would eventually complete Hannah’s story for me, what happened after the SS St Louis reached Cuban waters and the passengers on board were told that their papers were no longer valid and they wouldn’t be granted entry. Anna, although well removed from the horrors of WWII has suffered as well and her mother has not exactly been the most present of parents for most of her life. The trip to Cuba gives Anna some background, gives her her heritage but it is Hannah’s voice that makes this book shine.


Book #219 of 2016

2 responses to “Review: The German Girl by Armando Lucas Correa

  1. Deborah says:

    This isn’t my sort of read but I received a copy of it… I usually like the contemporary elements of books in multiple timeframes more than the historical elements, so it’s interesting you found the opposite. Thanks for sharing… I must rearrange my TBR pile!

    • It’s funny, I read a huge amount of contemporary but whenever I read a historical/contemp blend I nearly always end up being riveted by the historical part of the story. I’m not sure why that is!

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