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The Girl From the Train ~ Review

The Girl From the Train
By Irma Joubert

If I was asked to describe this book in just a few words I would use the following:

This is a story that will leave a lasting and profound impression on you.  This is a story you need to read.

Gretl Schmidt is just 6 years old when war takes everything from her - everything but her dream. The dream that wakes her from her sleep.  The dream that haunts her.

A young girl hated among her own people - a Protestant German Jew.  Sent away with what remained of her family to Auschwitz, Gretl managed to escape into the unknown regions of Poland.  Here she meets the man who will change her life forever.

Jakob Kowalski is fighting to free his people, his country, from the German invasion when a mistake is made - a mistake which he will have to live with.  While dealing with his guilt he offers to aid a young girl who has escaped from the very people he is fighting.  But Gretl's fair Germanic features and Protestant roots are a problem in a country that is both Catholic and Polish.  

As the war concludes an opportunity is presented that may provide Gretl with both a proper home and a family who will love her.  But to do this she must leave behind Jakob and all that she has known and learned over the last four years.  She must be silent on her Polish experience, her Catholic ties, and her Jewish grandmother.  She must be a pure Aryan and a Protestant if she is to find a family that will take her into their home and their hearts, if she is to be one of the few chosen to become a child of South Africa.

As Jakob tells her before they part, ...always remember you're Gretl... If you don't allow others to influence who you are, you'll have something no one can take away from you.  It doesn't matter what other people are like, or even what they call you.  You must continue to be Gretl.  Gretchen....

The Girl from the Train covers approximately a 15 year period of time - the time needed to transform the young child Gretl into the young woman Grietjie.  The time needed to reunite two people who were necessary to one another.  This is a story of the triumph of the human spirit, a story of love - a love that spans the years, and a story of perseverance in the face of prejudice.  

If you need a suggestion for a book club this is one you should read.  There are many books that are chosen as a selection for a book club  and they are awful - there is no hope, leaving the reader in a state of despair and depression - offering nothing to make the experience worthy of your time.  This book is not one of those books - yes there is tragedy, there is loss but throughout there is hope and hope is a powerful draw.

I was provided an advance uncorrected copy of this book by the publisher through the Fiction Guild in exchange for my honest review.

About the Book:
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.
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. Facebook: irmajoubertpage