This historical fiction novel follows the lives of three families — German Jews in World War II, Cubans under the Castro régime in 1994, and present-day Syrians — all attempting to flee the unbearable strife of their homelands. The book culminates in bitter-sweet outcomes for all three.The well-written, compelling stories are told from the viewpoint of a child from each group: Josef from Germany, Isabel from Cuba, and Mahmoud from Syria. They portray harrowing and unfortunately realistic experiences, and at times the grimness can feel too personalized, the children’s helplessness too real. While all the children display endearing heroism and decency, two of the young Jewish girls aboard the ill-fated St. Louis are portrayed in a surprisingly unsympathetic manner. The tales connect in unlikely ways at the end.
The publisher suggests this book for readers ages 9 to 12 but, although the reading level is appropriate for that age group, the tales are grueling, and the depictions of death, torture, and broken souls are intense. This book would be more appropriate for readers ages 12 to 14.
Award-winning journalist and freelance writer, Helen Weiss Pincus, has taught memoir writing and creative writing throughout the NY Metro area to senior citizens and high school students. Her work has been published in The New York Times, The Record, The Jewish Standard, and other publications. She recently added “Bubby” to her job description.