Friday, October 30, 2015
The Girl from the Train- Irma Joubert
Description: Six-year-old Gretl Schmidt is on a train bound for Auschwitz. Jakób Kowalski is planting a bomb on the tracks.
As World War II draws to a close, Jakób fights with the Polish resistance against the crushing forces of Germany and Russia. They mean 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 Jakób discovers her, guilt and fatherly compassion prompt him to take her home. For three years, the young man and little girl form a bond over the secrets they must hide from his Catholic family.
But she can’t stay with him forever. Jakób 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, Jakób 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.
My Thoughts: To my knowledge, this is the first novel I've read that was translated into English (outside of a few I had to read in high school and have pushed from my memory). For that reason, I had been slightly worried that some aspects of the story would have been lost in translation, either because of differing cultures or else words that had no exact definition in English. I was pleased to find that if anything was lost in translation, I didn't notice.
The Girl from the Train was a wonderful read. While most of the plot takes place after WWII, it was still interesting to see how Europe coped after the war, as well as how the effects were felt all the way to South Africa. My favorite conflict through the story was that between nationalities, languages, and religions that Gretl and Jakob had to navigate in order to survive.
* Now for a spoiler* From the beginning, I knew that the story would have to end in a romance between Jakob and Gretl. It was the only relational conclusion I could picture since Jakob never took up the role as father to Gretl, even though he could have. And while I rooted for it before it happened (it is not the first time I have seen a 15 year age gap), I was not sure of how I felt about it once it did happen. Even though they were a couple, Jakob still bossed her around like a parent and Gretl whined and manipulated him like she was his child. It made it hard for me to believe they were in love.
The part I really had issue did not come about until near the end, leaving the rest of the story to enjoy. I hope to see more translations of Irma's books in the future.
I received this book from the publisher through The Fiction Guild in exchange for an honest review.