Rocky ride for read­ers and pas­sen­gers

The Ger­man Girl

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - By Ar­mando Lu­cas Cor­rea is ded­i­cated to the 937 pas­sen­gers

Si­mon & Schus­ter, £12.99 Re­viewed by Anne Garvey

IN 1939, in their lux­u­ri­ous Ber­lin apart­ment, the Rosen­thal fam­ily live in suf­fo­cat­ing fear. Out­side, gar­ish signs of Nazism dec­o­rate squares. Inside, Han­nah, the Rosen­thals’ 11-yearold daugh­ter, faces the rude­ness of her par­ents’ ten­ants and the hys­te­ria of her thwarted mother Alma as she waits for a way to es­cape the net clos­ing around them.

Han­nah, Max and Alma then em­bark on a fantasy of safety on the St Louis. And The

Ger­man Girl Ar­mando Lu­cas Cor­rea who sold all they had to make that bid for free­dom. All seems well. The wealthy Rosen­thals book into a first-class cabin and be­gin to en­joy life aboard, Max in a din­ner jacket, Alma in a glam­orous gown, drink­ing cham­pagne and danc­ing. But, as the boat nears Ha­vana, the prom­ise of a haven rup­tures. Ap­peals to Pres­i­dent Batista fall on deaf ears. Only 25 or so refugees are al­lowed to land, in­clud­ing Han­nah and her now­preg­nant mother; her fa­ther is forced to sail back to Europe, and even­tual death.

The story is told from the point of view of the child Han­nah, but there are prob­lems with this. Un­less you are Ian McEwan in Atone­ment or in­deed Jane Austen in Sense and Sen­si­bil­ity, it is a limited perspective. It drains the pol­i­tics — and some­times the sense — out of the drama. And, when the nar­ra­tive links for­ward in time with that of a young girl, Anna, in Man­hat­tan whose fa­ther has died in 9/11, there are two 11-year-old girls with griev­ing moth­ers who refuse to com­mu­ni­cate with them. (Han­nah is the epony­mous “Ger­man Girl” be­cause a pho­tog­ra­pher snapped her in Ber­lin while she was out with her friend, and the pic­ture ap­peared on the cover of a Nazi pro­pa­ganda magazine.)

The story gets more ten­u­ous when the 2014 Anna turns out to be the great niece of 1938 Han­nah ma­rooned in Cuba (despite own­ing the Man­hat­tan apart­ment where lit­tle Anna now lives) be­cause she feared the Nazis would get as far as Amer­ica.

The fi­nal chap­ters fea­ture the com­ing of Fidel Cas­tro in 1959, joined by Gus­tav (named af­ter the Cap­tain of the St Louis) Alma’s now ne’er-do-well son who has be­come a cal­lous ide­o­logue in­tox­i­cated with rev­o­lu­tion­ary zeal.

Ar­mando Lu­cas Cor­rea is a Cuban ex­ile who, in this novel, of­fers par­al­lels be­tween the Cuban Rev­o­lu­tion and the rise of the Nazis, which, when ad­mixed with a story of sur­vival from the Holo­caust, is out­ra­geous. This book might have passed muster as a Young Adult novel but the bla­tantly par­ti­san ap­proach to Cuba’s re­cent past is some­thing you might not want to put in the way of any stu­dent of his­tory, even if he or she could tol­er­ate the re­lent­less world-view of not one but two 11-year-olds.

Cor­rea ed­its a Span­ish Amer­i­can magazine read by mil­lions and he is clearly grind­ing a well-worn axe here. But he can be a com­pelling and imag­i­na­tive writer, though the trans­la­tion (by Nick Cais­tor) can be puz­zling at times, with such odd­i­ties as both Jews in Nazi Ger­many and dis­si­dents in 1950s Cuba re­ferred to as “worms” .

Anne Garvey is a writer and reviewer

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