The German Girl – A family aboard the ill-fated SS St Louis
The German Girl
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 and she is no longer welcome in the places that once felt like home. Hannah and her best friend, Leo Martin, make a pact: whatever the future has in store for them, they’ll meet it together.
The German Girl Shines a light on the little-known tragedy of the ill-fated St Louis. The luxury cruise ship provided sumptuous feasts and lavish parties. However, sadness hangs in the air. The passengers are not holiday makers. They are Jewish families escaping the growing tensions and rising hatred in 1939 Germany by scraping together money for a ticket out of Germany and into Cuba, leaving their homes and belongings to the Germans.
The ill-fated St Louis
Author Armando Lucas Correa chronicles the life of Hannah Rosenthal, a twelve-year-old German girl who is as blonde and blue eyed as a ‘pure’ German. Unfortunately, she was born into a Jewish family. Her father and mother have managed to get safe passage to Cuba on the ill-fated cruise liner the SS St Louis, which was to be their escape from persecution. The party consists of Hannah’s father Max, her mother, the stunningly beautiful, graceful, yet fragile Alma, her best friend in the whole world Leo, and his father.
They navigate troubled waters as it becomes more and more apparent that their dream destination and salvation in exotic Cuba may not be the dream they imagined.
Fast forward to 2014 and twelve-year-old Anna Rosen receives a strange package from a long lost relative and some faded photos of the SS St Louis.
What did I think of The German Girl?
The German Girl is exquisitely written. Correa ensures that the tiniest detail is included, add to that the nuances and the gentle touch to the prose make you love this family and wish them nothing but safety and protection. Hannah is smart and intuitive; she picks up on adult conversations, yet has the childlike quality of any twelve-year-old girl who dreams of a fun life, adventures, and a happy future.
The tale of the Rosenthals felt so personal, almost like a memoir, and resonated strongly with the current refugee alienation and oppression we see in news reports today. You can call someone a refugee, impure, and see them as less than yourselves, but behind every slang term and bigoted comment is a person, with feelings, dreams, aspirations and a story of their own. No-one chooses to be an ostracised minority; it is thrust upon them, and it is this which causes hatred, fear, and change. I was surprised, and felt a little shame that I had no knowledge of the SS St Louis until I read this book, I will certainly be finding out more about the passengers onboard this ship.
I was nervous before I started reading, having seen the Women’s Weekly sticker, but this is a case of don’t judge a book by its cover!
The Book Synopsis
A stunningly ambitious and beautiful novel, perfect for fans of The Nightingale, Schindler’s List, and All the Light We Cannot See, about twelve-year-old Hannah Rosenthal’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.
Hope appears in the form of the SS St. Louis, a transatlantic liner offering Jews safe passage out of Germany. 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 the refugees, with masquerade balls, exquisite meals, and polite, respectful service. But soon ominous rumours from Cuba undermine the passengers’ fragile sense of safety. From one day to the next, impossible choices are offered, unthinkable sacrifices are made, and the ship that once was their salvation seems likely to become their doom.
Seven decades later in New York City, on her twelfth birthday, Anna Rosen receives a strange package from an unknown relative in Cuba, her great-aunt Hannah. Its contents will inspire Anna and her mother to travel to Havana to learn the truth about their family’s mysterious and tragic past, a quest that will help Anna understand her place and her purpose in the world.
The German Girl sweeps from Berlin at the brink of the Second World War to Cuba on the cusp of revolution, to New York in the wake of September 11, before reaching its deeply moving conclusion in the tumult of present-day Havana. Based on a true story, this masterful novel gives voice to the joys and sorrows of generations of exiles, forever seeking a place called home.
4 out of 5 from me, order from Booktopia today!