The German Girlby Armando Lucas Correa

Hardcover, 360 pages
Published October 18th 2016 by Atria Books
5 Stars

Synopsis: A young girl flees Nazi-occupied Germany with her family and best friend, only to discover that the overseas refuge they had been promised is an illusion in this “powerful and affecting” (Kirkus Reviews) debut novel, perfect for fans of The NightingaleAll the Light We Cannot See, and Schindler’s List.

Before everything changed, young 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: whatever the future has in store for them, they’ll meet it together.
Hope appears in the form of the S.S. 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 rumors 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.

My Review: 

This debut novel by Armando Lucas Correa is a wonderfully written historical fiction book about a little known event in the late 1930s. The Nazi’s already controlled Berlin and had begun their ethnic cleansing. This book tells the story of what happened to one wealthy, aristocratic Jewish family at the time and throughout several decades following the event. The story is told in two alternating narrations that flow seamlessly together.

The first is Hannah Rosenthal who is living in Berlin in 1939. She is happy and loves spending time with her friend Leo. She is documenting the changes in the city using her trusty camera as she and Leo sneak around. Hannah, who has blue eyes and blonde hair, is able to travel around much easier than Leo as she looks pure. When the Rosenthals are finally stripped of the apartment house that they own and Max is arrested, they realize it is time to leave and find a safe place to live. Because of their wealth, they are able to secure passage on the St. Louis, a luxury liner, that will take them to Cuba where they have been promised a new life after buying papers from the government that they are told will grant them asylum in Havana. The plan is to move to the United States after that. The Rosenthals, Martins (Leo and his father) and many other families are looking forward to a new life. When they finally arrive in the port of Havana they are told that their papers are no longer valid. Only 28 of the 937 passengers are allowed to stay in Havana, Hannah and her mother Alma are two of them. Her father and Leo and his father are turned away.

The second narrator is Anna Rosen, a young girl whose father was killed in the 9/11 attack on the Twin Towers while her mother was pregnant with her. Anna’s mother has been extremely depressed and Anna is pretty much caring for herself and her mother when a letter appears one day from an aunt of her father, still living in Cuba. The letter also contains unprocessed photo film that appears to be from her father’s grandparents. Anna shows her mother and this seems to rouse her. They begin to investigate and head off to Cuba to meet this mysterious and unknown to them relative.

I really enjoyed this story. I listened to part of it on audiobook and read the rest. The writing was beautiful. It was easy to read and listen to and drew you into the story. It flowed smoothly and there was no problem following who was telling the story. The event was one that I had not heard of before and it was very sad to find out about as well as to learn the part Canada and the United States played in this horrible event. The voices of Hannah and Leo, were particularly well written. This friendship and their stories were a part I looked forward to reading about. The other characters from both the present and past are well described and touched me in many ways. The despair of Alma was palpable and Hannah’s sorrow was so real. Make sure you read the author’s note as it gives some more facts about this terrible event. I’m hoping books such as this one can help us remember the injustices done in our world history so we do not repeat them. This is a must read for anyone interested in the history surrounding this WWII time-frame as well as anyone who loves historical fiction.