In 1939 before everything changed, Hannah Rosenthal lived a charmed life. Her family moved in Berlin’s highest social circles, admired by friends and neighbors. Eleven-year-old Hannah was often taken by her mother for an afternoon treat at the tea room of the beautiful Adlon Hotel, both dressed in their finest clothes. She spent her afternoons at the park with her best friend Leo Martin. But, in an instant, that sunlit world vanished. Now the streets of Berlin are draped with red, white, and black flags; their fine possessions are hauled away, and they are no longer welcome in the places that once felt like home. The two friends make a pact: come what may, they promise to have a future together.
As Hannah and Leo’s families desperately begin to search for a means of escape, a glimmer of hope appears when they discover the Saint Louis, a transatlantic liner that can give Jews safe passage to Cuba. After a frantic search to obtain visas, the Rosenthals and the Martins depart from Hamburg on the luxurious passenger liner bound for Havana. Life aboard the ship is a welcome respite from the gloom of Berlin—filled with masquerade balls, dancing, and exquisite meals every night.
As the passengers gain renewed hope for a bright future ahead, love between Hannah and Leo blossoms. But soon reports from the outside world began to filter in, and dark news overshadows the celebratory atmosphere on the ship; the governments of Cuba, the United States, and Canada are denying the passengers of the St. Louis admittance to their countries, forcing them to return to Europe as it descends into the Second World War. The ship that had seemed their salvation seems likely to become their death sentence.
After four days anchored at bay, only a handful of passengers are allowed to disembark onto Cuban soil, and Hannah and Leo must face the grim reality that they could be torn apart. Their future is unknown, and their only choice will have an impact in generations to come.
Decades later in New York City on her eleventh birthday, Anna Rosen receives a mysterious envelope 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 Hannah, who is turning eighty-seven years old. Hannah reveals old family ties, recounts her journey aboard the Saint Louis and, for the first time, reveals what happened to her father and Leo. Bringing together the pain of the past with the mysteries of the present, Hannah gives young Anna a sense of their shared histories, forever intertwining their lives, honoring those they loved and cruelly lost.
ebook, 368 pages
Published October 18th 2016
by Atria Books
Anna is only 12 years old living in Manhattan 2014 when this book begins. I will admit to being a little skeptical about her age and whether there was the depth required to make her story work. Hannah on the other hand has room to grow and the reader should be able to get to know her and the conflict.
For the first part of the book I was drawn right in, with a brief introduction to present day Anna the majority of this book tells Hannah's story, whom with family and friends escape Germany at the brink of World War II. The German Girl had more of a young adult feel to it, though even a younger rating would be fine as I think girls the same age as Hannah/Anna might enjoy this also. I am a reader of all age groups so I didn't mind that aspect. What I struggled with here was the similarity between Anna and Hannah, it was hard to feel any connection. There were times I wondered if Anna's story was even necessary, Hannah's story would have been fine on its own. The plot moved at a slow pace and at times I struggled to stay focused.
There are lots of 4/5 star ratings for this book and while my feelings differ I think there was great potential. The story of the St. Louis is very interesting and one that I think should be more commonly known.
I rated this book 2 1/2 stars but rounding up to 3. Thanks to Netgalley for an advanced copy.