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: