Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Book Review: The German Girl by Armando Lucas Correa

May 27, 1939, the transatlantic ocean liner St. Louis arrived in Havana, Cuba. It had set sail from Hamburg, Germany 14 days earlier carrying 937 passengers, most of which were Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany. The desired final destination of these passengers was the United States, where they were on the waiting list for immigration, and Cuba was meant only as an intermediary stop for a couple months or years.

Unbeknownst to the passengers, political stirrings were happening in Cuba as the ship prepared to sail. Among other things, the Director-General of the Cuban Immigration Office, Manuel Benitez Gonzalez, had been illegally selling landing certificates for his personal profit and it was therefore decided that all recently issued landing certificates, those signed by Benitez, were to be invalidated.

When the St. Louis arrived in Havana, 28 passengers were allowed to disembark and be admitted to the country. The rest of the passengers, because they possessed the wrong landing certificates, were forced to remain on the ship and on June 2, the St. Louis was ordered to leave Cuban waters.

Slowly making its way back towards Europe, the St. Louis closely passed Florida in the hopes that the U.S. government would take pity on these refugees and admit them but they were unsuccessful. The captain and crew of the German ship knew what fate their passengers faced if they were to return them to Germany and eventually were able to split the passengers between Great Britain, the Netherlands, Belgium, and France.

The German Girl by Armando Lucas Correa

The German Girl

Armando Lucas Correa uses the fictitious story of Hannah Rosenthal, a young, wealthy, Jewish, German girl who is forced to leave the only home she’s ever known because of the evil "Ogres" who have taken over her city and country, to bring attention to the appalling true story of the St. Louis voyage. The novel shifts back and forth between Hannah’s story in 1939 and beyond and that of Hannah’s great niece Anna who, in 2014, is trying to learn more about her family.

The narrative is largely from the perspective of these two young girls and is written as such, that is to say, somewhat simplistically. But that is not to say that it’s not a beautiful story that is full of emotion. It’s a heartbreaking story of lost hope and anguish at never finding welcome or peace.

The German Girl was a story I was not familiar with before diving into this novel, and I recommend it to fans of WWII historical fiction, especially younger audiences as I would classify this novel as young adult fiction (not to say older audiences can’t still enjoy it though!). I gave The German Girl 4 stars out of 5 on Goodreads.

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