The German Girl
by Armando Lucas Correa, Simon & Schuster.
Although Armando Lucas Correa’s novel is based on the Second World War, it feels incredibly topical. This is a story about the desperate plight of refugees, of what happens when borders are closed and basic humanity is overcome by fear and prejudice. Correa is a journalist and the ingrained sense of purpose in his debut work of fiction gives this new window on the horrific consequences of Nazi Germany a sense of electric urgency. The novel is told through two captivating narrators in alternate chapters. First is Hannah Rosenthal, an almost 12-year-old Jewish girl who, until now, has known a bourgeois life in 1939 Berlin. Hannah spends her days roaming the city with her best friend, Leo, but Berlin is changing. Hannah and Leo are now spat upon and sneered at and everywhere is stench and ugliness. Hannah’s mother is the needy Alma, an opera singer with an over-dramatic nature; her father, Max, a university professor. As Berlin turns against them, the family must flee. Max secures tickets on the St Louis, a liner offering passage to Cuba, where the government has promised safe haven for Jewish refugees. Leo and his father also manage to secure places. Interspersed with this story is Anna Rosen’s; an American girl who on her 12th birthday receives a package from her great-aunt, Hannah, containing negatives of photographs she has never seen before. Anna longs to know more about her absent father and these photos are the catalyst to connect with her history and eventually meet her great-aunt in Cuba. We soon learn that while Hannah and her mother ended up in Cuba, her father and Leo didn’t make it. The authorities reneged on their promise, only allowing 28 of the 937 passengers ashore, the rest forced to return to Europe, where most perished. It’s an incredible story, and one based on real events, which Correa outlines at the end of the book.