Publishing Date: October 18, 2016
Publisher: Atria Books
Pages: 368 pages
The Premise from the Publisher: "Before everything changed, Hannah Rosenthal lived a charmed life. But now, in 1939, the streets of Berlin are draped with red, white, and black flags; her family’s fine possessions are hauled away; and they are no longer welcome in the places that once felt like home. Hannah and her best friend, Leo Martin, make a pact: come what may, they promise to have a future together. A glimmer of hope appears in the form of the St. Louis, a transatlantic liner that can provide Jews safe passage to Cuba. After a frantic search to obtain visas, the Rosenthals and the Martins depart on the luxurious ship bound for Havana. Life on board the St. Louis is like a surreal holiday for these refugees, with masquerade balls, exquisite meals, and polite, respectful service. But soon ominous rumors from Cuba overshadow the celebratory atmosphere, and the ship that once was their salvation seems likely to become their death sentence. Hannah and Leo must make an impossible choice or risk losing everything that matters. Seven decades later in New York City, on her twelfth birthday, Anna Rosen receives a package from Hannah, a great-aunt she has never met but who raised her deceased father. In an attempt to piece together her father’s mysterious past, Anna and her mother travel to Havana to meet this elderly relative. Hannah tells them of her astonishing journey on the St. Louis and, for the first time, reveals how she and Leo honored the solemn pact they had made. By connecting the pain of the past to the mysteries of the present, Hannah gives her young great-niece a sense of their shared histories, forever intertwining their lives, honoring those they loved and cruelly lost" (Atria Books).
My overall thoughts and review: When I was first pitched this book, it was mentioned to me that if I loved The Nightingale, I would definitely enjoy this. I listened to The Nightingale in audiobook form earlier this year and I absolutely loved it. I don't read historical fiction often, but when I do I really prefer WWII era.I also love when books draw attention to events that are not widely spoken about.. and in this case it was about the MS St. Louis. Ruta Sepetys wrote Salt to the Sea (which I also loved) and it focused on MV Wilhelm Gustloff - another focus on ocean liners/ships. I love the idea of ships to begin with (I have to admit, I've never been on one!) and I just love reading about day to day interactions on-board. As the premise states, the narrative switches from Anna Rosen in present day New York (2014) and Hannah Rosenthal in Berlin in 1939. The reader learns the events of 1939, where Hannah and her family attempt to secure safe passage to Havana. I really enjoyed reading the scenes between Hannah and Leo. Those passages made me especially happy and just seeing how their relationship was, was really heartwarming. In present day, you see how Anna worries for her mother and attempts to learn more about her father. I really empathized with this story line because of how close Anna is with her mother. It reminded me of my relationship with my mother and my aunt. Overall, I can't say much without spoiling the book, but Armando weaves together a wonderful narrative about love, family, friendship and loss, all the while introducing the reader to an event that took place years ago that is only being formally acknowledged in the recent years. The records and documents have been ignored for years in the history of Cuba (classrooms and textbooks) and it was interesting to learn the role that Canada played in it all. After reading this, I definitely want to look further into the history of St. Louis. If you are a fan of The Nightingale, like me, you will definitely enjoy this read. Where The Nightingale highlights sisterly bonds, The German Girl focuses on mother/daughter relationships and friendship.
My rating of the book: ✮✮✮✮ (4/5 stars)
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Preview Party Event RecapJustaLilLost was also in attendance with me. When we first entered the venue, we were greeted by the lovely folks from Simon and Schuster, and I immediately recognized Armando from afar because of his red glasses from his twitter profile photo! xD I had only read half of the book by then, but I was really excited to learn about his influences. The party venue was actually decorated with artifacts that Armando collected during his research. There were old photographs, transcripts, magazines and photos blown up as portraits hung around the walls. I was also super excited to see menus from St. Louis. It was amazing what Armando had collected over the years. When we finally got to talk to Armando for a bit, we learned that he had even more at home and the collection on display was only a small faction!
Armando's editor spoke about the book and introduced him and Armando then went on to show us a slideshow of some photos of St. Louis and spoke about his inspiration behind the story. He was always fascinated with the events and wanted to explore that further. He also spoke about how he came to meet Ana Maria Gordon, who was one of the survivors of MS St. Louis, who now lives in Toronto. Ana was the special guest of honor that night and after Armando spoke, she spoke for a little bit as well. She is now 81 years old and she speaks about how it is difficult to recall most of the events because she was so young.. and unlike most people, she was able to live a happy and safe life after the events of World War II. It was so lovely seeing her and Armando together and it was great seeing a book come to life in a sense. I saw that night and I can also see in reading the book, how important the events are to Armando, and how he pays tribute to the victims and survivors of St. Louis. I had a great time at the event and I really hope Armando will do a book tour this fall in Canada. (I definitely am pushing for him to visit my local bookstore!)
(image from Simon & Schuster Canada)
Be sure to check out the other stops on the blog tour! The other stops feature some amazing content and there is even a giveaway for a finished copy at one of the blogs! :)
Disclaimer: An advanced reader's copy of the book was sent by Simon and Schuster Canada in exchange for an honest review. All opinions of the book are my own.