Saturday, 15 May 2021

The German Girl by Armando Lucas Correa

The German Girl by Armando Lucas Correa
Published in Spanish as La niña alemana in October 2016.English language translation by Nick Caistor published by Simon And Schuster in January 2017.

How I got this book:
Bought the ebook from Amazon

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The German Girl sweeps from Berlin at the brink of WWII to Cuba on the cusp of revolution, to New York in the wake of September 11th, before reaching its deeply moving conclusion in the tumult of present-day Havana. Based on a true story, this wonderful novel gives voice to the joys and sorrows of generations of exiles, forever seeking a place called home. 

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.

The German Girl is a dual timeline novel which tells of the experiences of two twelve year old girls, Hannah and Anna, seventy five years apart. The story is told from their alternating perspectives so, as readers, we only understand as much of what is going on around them as Hannah and Anna do. I quite liked this approach because it gave an engaging immediacy to the narration, however it was also occasionally frustrating because I wanted greater depth of information about certain events that the girls only alluded to in passing. I was also disappointed at how passive all the adult women are. I understand that Correa wanted to demonstrate parallels between Hannah and Anna, but having both their mothers disengage from general life so similarly seemed forced to me.

I did appreciate the opportunity to learn the story of the St Louis exodus which I don't think I'd read before although the 'Benitez visas' idea seemed familiar to me so I think I had previously heard of that aspect of it at least. The German Girl describes a less harrowing side to the Jewish ethic cleansing during World War Two and the prose style necessitated by its young narrators made this novel feel like a young adult read rather than historical war fiction, which isn't a detraction although it was initially unexpected. Overall I found this book to be a very readable fictionalisation of the St Louis tragedy.

Search Literary Flits for more:
Books by Armando Lucas Correa / War fiction / Books from Cuba

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