The Girl From the Train
By Irma Joubert
Published By Thomas Nelson
384 Pages

Back Cover: A sweeping international love story that celebrates the triumph of the human spirit over the inhumanities of war and prejudice.

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 Jakob, 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 Jakob are reunited in a love story that transcends time and distance and survives the ravages of hatred and war.

REVIEW:  This author is an accomplished international bestselling author who lives and works in South Africa. This is the first book to be translated from her native Afrikaans language into English. I was captivated by this story and by a brave little girl named Grett Schmidt.

This is a novel that will pull at your heart-strings and give you a perspective of WWII from a six year old’s POV as she deals with her nightmares. I felt for Gretl and Jakob’s situation. 

Grett’s family planned to jump from the train that was headed to Auschwitz camp. They would all jump and meet up at the grandmother’s house. The train blew up after Gretl jumped with her sister. She heard the explosion and saw the flames. What would she do now? She was all alone. Her sister didn’t make it. 

Jakob Kowalski heard the explosion and ran for his life. He spotted a little girl. His heart went out to this little orphan. He couldn’t leave her behind. Gretl helped out the family for a while on the farm; even when Jakob went away to do work with the revolution in Poland. Gretl was six years old and did her best to fit in and be liked. She stayed about four years; until people started to suspect she might be Jewish.

With the political climax getting hot and the family financial pressures increasing Jakob’s family insisted he find another home for his orphan. He was 21 when he had to make that decision, Gretl had been with his family for 6 years. He tries to find the best place for her. It was hard because she was not the desired age to be adopted even thought she looked younger than her years.. Jakob read an article in a newspaper that tells of kids being adopted and sent to South Africa. They are promised a good home and college education. Gretl was a smart girl and loved to learn. Now to see how to get her into this program.

She remembers what Jakob tells her, “It doesn’t matter what other people are like or even what they call you. You must continue to be Gretl, Gretchen. Do you understand what I’m telling you….Look and listen carefully and make up your own mind. Decide what’s right and what’s good and do it, even if it’s not what you want to do it’s the best way to learn.”

Gretl thought, “I’m German – Lutheran. The people in South Africa must never know I lived in Poland, because they will want to know how I got there. And no one must ever know I have Jewish Blood, that I’m not pure Aryan. And I mustn’t say I learned Russian at school, because the Arrikaners hate the Russians, just as the Poles hate the Germans, and the Germans hate the English.”

Woven into the hardships is a beautiful, tender love story. This young one had to deal with so much. It was hard to keep up each countries hates and likes straight. I liked how this author weaves in historical facts into this heart-wrenching yet hopeful story.

Oh, my I felt for this 10 year old and all she had to keep straight; knowing her life depended on getting things perfect. She knew Jakob wanted what was best for her she could tell he loved her. She had told Jakob how badly she wanted to learn. So this was the best he could do for her. She was on her way to South Africa. She was having second thoughts! Everything would be different. She’d have to learn another language. Her comfort she knew God was with her. She wasn’t alone.

This author Chronicles both Jakob and Gretl’s lives while they were apart. Each having their own challenges to overcome as they and the world around them change.

This is the first book I’ve read by this author I can’t wait for more of her books to be translated into English so I can read more. This is a fascinating read and one that would make a great book club pick. It's a rich layered novel I highly recommend.

About the Author - International bestselling author Irma Joubert was a history teacher for 35 years before she began writing. Her stories are known for their deep insight into personal relationships and rich historical detail. She's the author of eight novels and a regular fixture on bestseller lists in The Netherlands and in her native South Africa. She is the winner of the 2010 ATKV Prize for Romance Novels.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Booklook blog site. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising”

Nora St. Laurent
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