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The German Girl Bets On...

The German Girl

November 2016

While Cuba is in the news these days, and many of my friends have put it on a bucket list of places to visit, I confess to not being aware that during World War II Cuba was a desired safe haven for Jewish refugees trying to escape the wrath of Hitler and Nazi Germany. In his novel, THE GERMAN GIRL, Armando Lucas Correa tells their story and brings this little-discussed account to light.

The book has two interwoven stories. The first is Hannah’s. She is an 11-year-old blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl who lives in Berlin with her affluent family; her mom comes from wealthy German lineage, and her father is a professor. Hannah looks Aryan, which would be confusing to many, as she is Jewish. In fact, she is photographed for a German magazine and called out as “The German Girl.” The second is Anna, who is 12 years old. She lives in modern-day New York with her mom. She’s never met her dad, who was killed on September 11th; he never even knew her mom was pregnant with her. For years she has grappled with who her father was, as her mom has faded into a deep depression.

The book opens in 1939 as Hannah’s world is crumbling around her. Her family books passage on the SS St. Louis and heads to Cuba, which is to be a stop on the way to their lives in what they think of as the Promised Land, the United States. Her best friend, Leo Martin, is another passenger, and they have vowed to have a future together. The ship’s voyage is grand, a truly luxurious experience with fine food, wine and dancing. Nine-hundred thirty-seven passengers are on board, and they are not aware that their lives are in peril as only 29 will be allowed to disembark in Cuba; of those, 22 are Jewish with valid US visas. While they all thought that they had the correct documentation, the rules changed before they even set sail. The rest were turned back to Europe, some of whom found safe haven while others died in the camps. Hannah and her mother were among the 29.

Their stories meet as Anna receives a package from Hannah, who is Anna’s great aunt (now 87 years old), and an invitation to come to Cuba to learn more about her father. She also will learn more about how Hannah honored the memory of Leo, and what they had vowed to one another. Readers will learn what it was like to be German and Jewish, growing up in Cuba, and another angle on this time in history.

There is a lot to think about as you read. One note: I think that the storyline of Anna’s father dying on 9/11 was a bit much and felt clichéd. I’m not sure that was needed, but it was my only quibble.

The last pages bear the handwritten names of the passengers. Realizing how many of those people went to their deaths instead of finding sanctuary is chilling. THE GERMAN GIRL is great reading for book groups, especially those who already have read books about the Holocaust set in Europe.

The German Girl
by Armando Lucas Correa

  • Publication Date: August 8, 2017
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Washington Square Press
  • ISBN-10: 1501121235
  • ISBN-13: 9781501121234