The Girl from the Train
Author: Irma Joubert
Paperback: 370 pages (my version ARC)
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Published date: 2015
FTC: Received to review from publisher
I love WWII stories. Irma Joubert's The Girl from the Train would be a book I would have picked up to read whether I had received it to review or not. As the cover states, it was an international bestseller (South Africa and The Netherlands) and was Target's Book Club Pick for November last year. So it would have been on my radar. Overall I'd say I liked the book but somewhere in the middle it started dragging. Not sure if it was the book's fault or just where I was in my life.
Back of the book:
Six-year-old Gretl Schmidt is on a train bound for Aushwitz. Jakob Kowalski is planting a bomb on the tracks.
As World War II draws to a close, Jakob fights with the Polish resistance against the crushing forces of Germany and Russia. They intend to destroy a German troop transport, but Gretl's unscheduled train reaches the bomb first.
Gretl is the only survivor. Though spared from the concentration camp, the orphaned German Jew finds herself lost in a country hostile to her people. When Jakob discovers her, guilt and fatherly compassion prompt him to take her in. For three years, the young man and the little girl form a bond over the secrets they must hide from his Catholic family.
But she can't stay with him forever. Jakob sends Gretl to South Africa, where German war orphans are promised bright futures with adoptive Protestant families - so long as Gretl's Jewish roots, Catholic education, and connections to communist Poland are never discovered.
Separated by continents, politics, religion, language, and years, Jakob and Gretl will likely never see each other again. But the events they have both survived and their belief that the human spirit can triumph over the ravages of war have formed a bond of love that no circumstances can overcome.
Overall, The Girl from the Train was a great book. I am always intrigued by books that were originally written in a different language. It was translated from Afrikaans by Elsa Silke and she did a wonderful job. It makes me want to read more books that take place in South Africa - past or present. Have any of you read any good Afrikaans literature?
Joubert's book is all about characters and relationships. You can't but help fall in love with Gretl and wonder how she can manage to end up so sane. It reminded me of another book Broken Birds: The story of my momila which really shows how even though people survived the war they still carried heavy emotional scars. Jakob is a beautifully written character. I love that people like him are out in the world. You can't help but fall in love with Gretl and Jakob.
Somewhere in the middle of the story, while Gretl is growing up in South Africa, I felt the story dragged just a bit. I'm not sure if it's because I was prepared for more of a WWII story, less of a love story, or just felt that part was overly long...maybe it was just because I was pregnant and got tired easily. Who knows. Still, it's a great story and would make for an interesting book club selection.