Book Blurb from Goodreads.com:
Release Date: October 18, 2016
A stunningly ambitious and beautiful debut novel, perfect for fans of Sarah’s Key and All the Light We Cannot See, the story of a twelve-year-old girl’s harrowing experience fleeing Nazi-occupied Germany with her family and best friend, only to discover that the overseas asylum they had been promised is an illusion.
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.
It’s 1939 in Berlin where we meet Hannah Rosenthal and her family. The climate of their city has started to change due to the invasion of the Nazi party. Because they are of the Jewish faith, the family is no longer accepted and face humiliation daily. Friends disappear in the night, it is not safe to be outside, jobs are taken away, people arrested for no reason.
The family does not have many available options to escape. The Rosenthal’s, along with another family, obtain all the documents needed to travel on the transatlantic liner, the Saint Louis, to Cuba. They enjoy their time on the ship and are relieved to be leaving Nazi Germany. Unfortunately, the ship is refused entry into Cuba. Ultimately, this ship only allowed 29 passengers to disembark in Cuba, and was sent back to Europe.
It’s 2011 in New York City where we meet Anna who lives alone with her mother. On her twelfth birthday, Anna receives an envelope from a great aunt that she has never met. This person raised her father but is unknown by her mother. Anna is intrigued by the photos and pictures sent by her great aunt. The family travels to Cuba to learn about her father. It is in Cuba where they unravel the mysteries of their family and their connections back to Berlin.
Through the author’s writing, I could feel the remorse, regret and love that each family member endured. I felt a surge of emotion when the two stories converged.
I appreciate these lessons in history. The author did a great of weaving together an emotional story. This is a debut novel by this author.