TITLE: The German Girl
AUTHOR: Armando Lucas Correa
ONE SENTENCE SUMMARY: When Anna Rosen gets a mysterious package from an estranged Cuban relative, she is met with a long family history that begins in Nazi Germany.
GENRE: Historical Fiction | Holocaust | World War II
GOODREADS BLURBThe Holocaust and World War II were significant worlds events, ones that changed everything and left an indelible print in our shared world history, however it’s not a subject that holds much interest for me. It’s probably because I’ve seen enough movies and books covering this time period, that I just want to get away from that topic. What else could be said about a topic that should become it’s own genre?
Just as I was asking myself that question I saw Armando Lucas Correa on TV promoting his new book, The German Girl, a historical fiction novel about a young girl fleeing Nazi Germany on a ship. While Hannah is entirely fictional, the St. Louis’ voyage and what happened to its passengers was not. However, that’s not what piqued my interest in this book, it was the fact that the ship was destined to Havana.
So yes, this is another Holocaust survival story, but it’s a story that’s not talked about enough. Now that I’ve read it, I have thoughts.
There were a lot of things that I liked about the book. For example, I enjoyed the way Correa was able to weave together both German and Cuban history into one book, BUT I did not like the pacing because it was pretty slow, especially in the first half. I thought the second half of the book was so much better and definitely the more interesting, because it brings it all together to show us the importance of history and learning from it.
Another thing I didn’t like was the way the author would describe certain events but wouldn’t name it. Example, Kristallnacht or Night of Broken Night, is described and mentioned but never said by it’s name, and I was okay with that because Hannah was just 12 years old at the time. However, it doesn’t make sense when older character fail to name certain events. Unless you’re well versed in World War II or Cuban history, I’m not sure readers would know which historical event Correa was talking about or their significance. Of course, that might have been on purpose to put the story’s focus on the St. Louis’s voyage.
Now onto the things that I did like. For one, I like that the story feels quite personal to my family history being refugee immigrants from Cuba, but it is also incredibly relevant with today’s Syrian refugee crisis. The St. Louis was a ship full of Jewish refugees who were refused entry to Cuba and later on the U.S., and ultimately were sent back to Europe, many of which didn’t survive the war. As a result this book has forced me to think about what would have happened to my family if we weren’t given the opportunity to enter the U.S. I’d probably be living in fear of the government and what they could do. It’s also a reminder of what happens when countries refuse people in need, people who are fleeing for their lives, and it’s impossible not to think of the repercussions we might face in the future because of it.
Apart from the relevance to today’s current events, the book also shows us how history is important and how we’re bound to repeat it if we choose to ignore it. The author draws several subtle parallels from Nazi Germany to Castro’s revolution in Cuba; mass exodus of people, the U.S. seen as a safe haven, and notorious leaders. Unfortunately, some of the characters make the mistake of ignoring their past, and as a result the new generations repeat past mistakes because no one was there to tell them otherwise.
See? This book is full of historical life lessons but it doesn’t end with the St. Louis, instead we’re able to see what happens Hannah’s life after the voyage. We get a full view of her life, almost like an extended prologue. I would say more than that, but there are major spoilers.
In summary, I still would recommend this book especially if you want to learn more about the St. Louis (and some Cuban history), but all you have to do is get past that slow paced beginning.