The German Girl by Armando Lucas Correa
It is 1939 and Hannah Rosenthal’s family are wealthy German Jews living in the heart of Berlin. They are scorned by their neighbors and each day the danger grows. Then the day comes that the Rosenthals are given a chance to escape by booking a passage on the SS St. Louis to Cuba. Joining them are Hannah’s best friend Leo, who she someday hopes to marry, and his father. However, despite having secured documents before leaving, trouble brews when the Cuban government invalidates the documents of most passengers. As this goes on with Hannah and most passengers unaware, she and Leo spend their days exploring the ship and having fun while Hannah’s father helps to detangle the situation along with the captain. Not all will disembark on Cuban soil and many who do must experience a second upheaval during the Cuban Revolution years later.
In a second storyline set in 2014, Hannah connects with her great-grand niece who grew up in New York. Anna, who was named for the great-aunt who raised her father, was sent all the the photos Hannah had taken as the above events unfolded. This prompts Anna and her widowed mother to visit Hannah in Cuba. There they work together to uncover the past to help Anna know her family’s history. Meanwhile, Anna meets her own version of Leo, Diego who lives next door to Hannah.
This novel was unique in that it told through two related stories each written in the first person perspective from a preteen’s point of view while still being meant for adult readers. And it was that technique that allowed the story to work, as if the historical timeline had been told from an adult’s point of view, the 2014 storyline would have been impossible. Having the historical timeline told from a young Hannah’s perspective also allowed readers to see more than just the Holocaust in the novel, but also the Cuban Revolution and understand how it felt to Hannah to go through two very similar events. I think Correa did a wonderful job of using this youth viewpoint to make the entire novel relatable to adults. It also allows the book to be read and related to by youth though they are not the target audience. Additionally, the prose was elegant and flowing and many events were emotional and one could not help but to sympathize with the characters, especially Hannah and Anna.
The copy reviewed was provided by NetGalley. It will be released on October 18, 2016. An Spanish-language version is set for release on November 1st.