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The German Girl


The German Girl

Meet Hannah Rosenthal. Hannah is an 11-year-old blonde-haired, blue-eyed German who lives in Berlin with her parents. Her father is a professor, her mother a pillar of affluent Berliner society. It is 1939, and Hannah is Jewish.

Meet Anna Rosen. Anna is a 12-year-old blonde-haired, blue-eyed New Yorker who lives with her mother in Morningside Heights. It is 2014, and Anna never met her father. He died (on a sunny Tuesday in September) before Anna’s mother could even tell him she was pregnant.

THE GERMAN GIRL is the story of Hannah and Anna. The first, forced to leave behind her luxurious life as part of the elite in Berlin to flee Nazi Germany on the ill-fated passenger liner, the SS St. Louis; the second, a lonely almost-teen who must care for her distraught, grieving mother and is desperately looking for a connection to her father. That connection is found in Hannah, an 87-year-old great-aunt who is unknown to Anna until she receives a package from Cuba in the mail for her 12th birthday. The package turns out to be what Anna’s mother needs to pull her from the perpetual twilight she’s lived in for years. The opportunity to be close to family, to learn more about the man they lost when the Twin Towers fell, is too much to resist. The Rosen women book a trip to Cuba to meet Hannah.

"[A]s the Rosenthals’ journey across the Atlantic begins, THE GERMAN GIRL blossoms into a triumphant yet heartbreaking story."

In 1939, the St. Louis set sail for Cuba with over 900 people seeking refuge from the Reich on board. Hannah and her parents are among them, as are Hannah’s best friend, Leo --- who is also her betrothed --- and his father, Herr Martin. They are only planning to stay in Cuba for a short time and then immigrate permanently to the US, where there is an apartment in Morningside Heights already purchased and waiting for them. For the most part, life aboard the St. Louis is much like it was in Berlin; the Rosenthals are once again at the top of the social hierarchy, and Hannah gets to venture around the ship freely with Leo. Her mother seems free of the depression that gripped her as their freedom was taken from them in Berlin. But her father and Herr Martin soon begin to take frequent meetings with the ship’s captain, and Hannah senses that the difficulty they thought they’d left in Europe may have followed them across the sea.

When the ship arrives in Cuba, the passengers are informed that the immigration papers they paid so much for in Berlin have since been voided, and the Cuban government wants an exorbitant amount of money to let anyone into the country. The day the ship is being forced to leave Cuban waters, Hannah and her mother are amongst the small group of people to be granted entry. Her father, Leo and Herr Martin are not allowed to accompany them, and as the transport boat carries Hannah and her mother to Cuba, the St. Louis reverses its course, rudderless.

The narrative follows Hannah’s life from 1938 Berlin to 2014 Havana, detailing the life of a Jewish refugee with the turbulent political climate of the island nation. Her story is heartbreaking --- from the trespasses suffered in Berlin, to leaving behind her father and Leo, to new hardships faced in Cuba in the 1960s, to her somewhat lonely later years. Anna’s story is intertwined with Hannah’s; the perspectives switch back and forth, even when they’re together in Cuba.

Both narratives speak beautifully of the tragedy, devotion and hope that accompany losing all that one has and growing up underneath the weight of the world. Armando Lucas Correa tells the fate of the St. Louis’s passengers with care and respect, trying his best to do justice to those caught in the dishonesty and turmoil that was the world’s landscape at the outset of World War II. I found the writing in Part One to be quite stiff and a little slow, but as the Rosenthals’ journey across the Atlantic begins, THE GERMAN GIRL blossoms into a triumphant yet heartbreaking story.

Reviewed by Sarah Jackman on November 10, 2016

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