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The World War II haven in Havana
Set against the backdrop of World War II, award-winning journalist Armando Lucas Correa’s The German Girl follows 12-year-old Hannah Rosenthal, who is attempting to flee Nazi Germany with her family and her best friend, Leo Martin. After many refusals, the Rosenthals are overjoyed when they are given the chance to escape to freedom aboard the SS St. Louis, a floating fairy tale making its way toward Cuba. But the outlook soon becomes grimmer for the desperate family. Hannah and Leo promise to stay together—and are forced to make impossible decisions.
Alternating with Hannah’s story is that of Anna Rosen, a 12-year-old girl in present-day New York. Anna is coming to terms with the death of her father when she receives a package from the mysterious great-aunt in Cuba who acted as a mother figure to Anna’s late father. Searching for answers and a deeper understanding of her father, young Anna and her mother set off on their own journey to Havana’s shores.
Correa, the editor-in-chief of People en Español, successfully weaves a profoundly emotional coming-of-age tale, based on the real-life journey of the St. Louis from Hamburg to Havana, and the 900 refugees aboard. Despite this heavy subject matter, Correa’s impeccably researched historical details shine through, grounding the novel and honing its point.
Though at times The German Girl is heartbreaking, the novel never wallows, and readers can often feel joy and excitement emanating off the young narrators. Correa’s characters and details are beautifully crafted, creating an insightful and poignantly timed exploration of the refugee experience.