Title: The German Girl
Author: Armando Lucas Correa
Translated by: Nick Caistor Simon & Schuster
A magnificent novel, translated from the Spanish, and regretfully, the edition that I have in hand tells me nothing about the author who is capable of writing such a fascinating fiction based on a true story. I wish I knew more about the author. I am ignorant.
It is a complicated setting, ranging from the Second World War, moving to the start of the Cuban revolution with glimpses of the destruction of New York’s World Trade Center. In this way, it tells the story of exiles who are not welcome in their own country and must find refuge in countries which will accept them, if at all.
It begins in Berlin where red, white and black flags fly everywhere and the “impure” community witnesses the Kristalnach nightmare. These once-wealthy Jewish families are witness to the destruction of their homes and businesses. They are now called worms and are spat on or stones are thrown. “Good Riddance” is the general mood.
The novel needs the reader’s total concentration, because it travels from Berlin 1939 to New York 2014 and decades in between in Havana. Before life changed, Hannah, blonde and blue-eyed daughter of the Semetic Rosenthal family led a charmed life and then came the traumatic change. Hope finally comes in the shape of the transatlantic liner SSSt. Louis which will take the refugees to Cuba.
Anna appears in New York in 2014 and she is the grand niece of Hannah, and through the book’s short chapters both women blend into similar characters in a surreal sort of way.
It is difficult to relate this simple and yet complicated story and yet it is fascinating and un-put-down able. Sometimes one almost loses the narrative; where is Leo in the story? How does Julian fit in? Is Dad dead and only alive in Anna’s closely clutched photo? Gustav? How is he related to the Rosenthal family, now called Rosen in Cuba? The reader has to be alert or else he or she will miss some connection.
In any event, the translation available here is an excellent effort without any mistake or hitch in the English version. There are many vivid passages of the pain of doomed exiles, and the tragic loss of welcome when countries where their ship heads refuses to let them dock.
One cannot help but be reminded of our own partition tragedy; a different-setting, of course, but still hatred, religious rejection, leaving safety and peace behind to a surreal and frightening future.
Perhaps it is my ignorance of international literature that I have not heard or read of this writer, is he Spanish? Is he Cuban? He writes in Spanish so he must be one of these nationalities, but whatever he is, one thing is evident, he has done thorough research on the subjects of German anti- Semetism, and the resulting world war; the Cuban revolution and the attach of New York’s Trade Center. This book is a must-read, not just for the knowledge available, but also how to write a great book.