Told in alternating chapters, this story was different than other stories I have read about this time period. Anna was searching for answers about her father, the person who walked out of her life when her mother was three months pregnant with her. Anna held onto a photo of him, hoping that some day she would be able to put the pieces together on why he left and never came back. When a package arrives in the mail with photos, negatives and a magazine cover, Anna hopes that her questions will soon be answered. Anna must travel back in time to find the answers she has been searching for and in doing so; she opens up a world that I did not know existed. She shows me the desperation that individuals found themselves in and the frustration that they coped with daily to find a better life for their families and themselves. I knew nothing about the ship St. Louis or how individuals worked frantically to get to Cuba, giving up almost everything they had just to get into their protective borders.
We don’t spend much time in 2014 with Anna as she tries to piece her life together, Anna wants to know her past and that is where we spend our time as we travel back to 1939 to Berlin where the war is occurring and people are desperate to get out of the city. We learn about Hannah, who is the aunt that raised Anna’s father and who Anna is named after. The story has an excellent flow even though the story is told in alternating chapters (not a favorite means of mine). Anna ponders events and issues about the history of her family and reflecting back in history, the story takes shape. It really worked in this novel as the historical chapters follow Anna’s present day chapter, addressing the topics that Anna reflected and answering them or giving the story in a chronically timeline. I have never learned or heard about the citizens of Berlin escaping to Cuba aboard a ship named the St. Louis before reading this novel. Nothing would surprise me about this time period and I am glad to read that there were other means of escape for individuals during this time. As I read, I could feel their urgency and their anxiety as they waited to see if they were going to be one of the few chosen to leave aboard the ship. There was not enough room for everyone who wanted to go and it costs a great deal of money to go. I thought this alone was sad for many people could not even be considered for the trip. What if not everyone in your household was chosen? What would you take? Who would you leave behind? Those that were finally chosen, how do you say good-bye to those who have to stay? When they finally got onboard the ship, I know they had to have mixed feeling about their trip. They finally got their freedom and when they saw land ....it was within their sights, Cuba is now having second thoughts about having these Berlin citizens amongst them. I felt deflated as I read this. Now what? I sat shaking head, taking a minute to comprehend what these people have gone through and what their options were now. I really enjoyed this novel. I saw a part of WWll that I hadn’t seen before, I saw people at their best and at their weakest and I think this book made me a better person.
I received a copy of this novel from NetGalley and Atria Books in exchange for an honest review.