This book is written by an author from South Africa, and this is the first work to be published in English.
Let me go straight to the publisher's description here:
A sweeping international love story that celebrates the triumph of the human spirit over the inhumanities of war and prejudice.My thoughts:
Six-year-old Gretl and her sister jump from a train bound for Auschwitz, her mother and grandmother unable to squeeze between the bars covering the windows. The daughter of a German soldier, Gretl understands very little about how her grandmother's Jewishness brought her first to the ghetto, then to the train, and now, to the Polish countryside where she wanders, searching for food and water for her dying sister.
Soon, Gretl finds refuge with Jakób, a Polish freedom fighter, and his family, where she is sheltered until the end of the war. Gretl is then sent away to a new life, a new name, and a new faith in Apartheid-era South Africa. As she comes of age in this strange place, she confronts its prejudices as she hides the truth of her past from her new family.
When Jakob makes his way to South Africa many years later, Gretl and Jakób are reunited in a love story that transcends time and distance and survives the ravages of hatred and war.
I was totally sucked in. Gretl (whose name changes throughout the book) grabbed my heart from the opening pages, and never let go. She's six at the start of the book, and she has lost her entire family. It's late in the war, and things are pretty desperate in Poland. Being German with Jewish blood isn't exactly a good thing at that time and place, so Gretl has to keep secrets and lie about who she is.
Jakób enters the scene, and ends up caring for this child as he really doesn't know what else to do. At the end of the war, he finds a way to get her sent to South Africa. Being Jewish or Polish or Catholic isn't exactly a good thing at that time and place, so Gretl has to keep secrets and lie about who she is.
South Africa is good for her, and we skip over a bunch of growing-up years, to find her in university. She still has lots of secrets to keep. And when Jakób appears in South Africa, it becomes even more complicated.
Joubert writes an intricate story, that covers many locations, and has a realistic feel with the historical details provided. Most of her characters are quite likable, and even the ones who aren't are portrayed in a way that you can understand why they do what they do.
I did not want the story to end.
And I will absolutely get any further books by Joubert that are written in English. This book is an example of what I love about historical fiction.
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