The German Girl by Armando Lucas Correa
Published October 18th 2016
Berlin, 1939. Before everything changed, Hannah Rosenthal lived a charmed life. But now the streets of Berlin are draped in ominous flags; her family’s fine possessions are hauled away; and they are no longer welcome in the places they once considered home. A glimmer of hope appears in the shape of the St. Louis, a transatlantic ocean liner promising Jews safe passage to Cuba. At first, the liner feels like a luxury, but as they travel, the circumstances of war change, and the ship that was to be their salvation seems likely to become their doom. New York, 2014. On her twelfth birthday, Anna Rosen receives a mysterious package from an unknown relative in Cuba, her great-aunt Hannah. Its contents inspire Anna and her mother to travel to Havana to learn the truth about their family’s mysterious and tragic past. Weaving dual time frames, and based on a true story, The German Girl is a beautifully written and deeply poignant story about generations of exiles seeking a place to call home.
Entering this novel, I was bit scared as to how dark the content may be. History can be ugly, and this novel explores some of the worst times of humanity. I was shockingly surprised by how beautifully executed this story was. Armando Lucas Correa takes on an extremely ambitious genre—historical fiction, notoriously known for being difficult to master even for seasoned writers—and explores the past with a eloquence I didn’t know was possible.
The reader journeys back into the life of fictional protagonist, Hannah Rosenthal in 1939 before the entire world changed. Her family are among the elite social circles in Berlin and are in constant admiration by friends and family. Eleven-year-old Hannah, leads a charmed life filled with high tea in the finest clothes and possessions others only dream of. Her days are spent happy and carefree, accompanied by friends of family.
Then, the world as she once knew it is gone. Seemingly overnight, in a simple blink of an eye. Instead of fanciful views, Berlin is now draped with red, white and black flags; fine possessions are taken and home is a place of distant memories.
The book is told in dual narrative, alternating between the aforementioned Hannah and 12-year-old Anna, Hannah’s great niece, living in New York 70 years later. The story connects the two women in a grandeurs way that really makes the reader think. Their connection cannot be elaborated on without dreaded ‘spoilers’, which I will certainly avoid, and instead focus on other great aspects of the book.
Many of us believe we know the details of the horrors endured in WW2 from studies in school, documentaries and social media—this book certainly proves us wrong. Very few people are familiar with the safe passage of Jews from Europe to Cuba under the reign of Hitler. I thought it was impossible to learn anything more horrendous about Hitler, once again, proven wrong.
This is a great read to get in touch with your humanity. To feel inspired to do good for others. Take the time to read, and learn about history so it never repeats itself. We all know the terrors of Auschwitz, now it is time to explore St. Louis, the transatlantic liner that took Jewish people to Cuba at the beginning of the war. The ship itself was seen as a beacon of hope, if one achieved passage, safety seemed real.
History tells a different story that begs to be repeated.