Six-year-old Gretl Schmidt is on a train bound for Auschwitz. Jakób Kowalski is planting a bomb on the tracks.
As World War II draws to a close, Jakób fights with the Polish resistance against the crushing forces of Germany and Russia. They mean to destroy a German troop transport, but Gretl’s unscheduled train reaches the bomb first.
Gretl is the only survivor. Though spared from the concentration camp, the orphaned German Jew finds herself lost in a country hostile to her people. When Jakób discovers her, guilt and fatherly compassion prompt him to take her home. For three years, the young man and little girl form a bond over the secrets they must hide from his Catholic family.
But she can’t stay with him forever. Jakób sends Gretl to South Africa, where German war orphans are promised bright futures with adoptive Protestant families—so long as Gretl’s Jewish roots, Catholic education, and connections to communist Poland are never discovered.
Separated by continents, politics, religion, language, and years, Jakób and Gretl will likely never see each other again. But the events they have both survived and their belief that the human spirit can triumph over the ravages of war have formed a bond of love that no circumstances can overcome.
I loved every minute of this book! I can’t remember the last time I sacrificed sleep to finish a book, but I couldn’t put this one down. There were so many layers to think about and enjoy. Jakob and Gretl’s stories are compelling enough, but there is a lot of education in these pages as well.
The best part about historical fiction for me is learning about people and places and points in history through the lens of fiction. Historical fiction makes the past come alive as I imagine the people living through whatever experiences occur in the book. In this one, I learn a lot about the history of South Africa and the Boer war. However, there is also a lot to be learned about the interactions between different religions at the end of WWII and the impact of working people during the rise of communism. Layers upon layers of interesting information!
However, Jakob and Gretl take center stage. They embody the purest kind of love; the kind that sacrifices self for the ones they love. Readers see all kinds of amazing traits through these two characters: Love, sacrifice, loyalty, and commitment. Joubert crafts these characters expertly; the pace is perfection, it never drags nor races along.
If you are a fan of historical fiction, this is the must read book of the year! It is so well-written, interesting, and full of human emotion. I really loved it!
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the Thomas Nelson Fiction Guild in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.