One of my favorite things when reading historical fiction, is when it makes me want to read more about the topic. The Girl From the Train did just that and it was such a unique era (mainly post WWII) and location (mainly South Africa). Not only that, I really enjoyed the story too.
Six-year-old Gretl Schmidt is on a train bound for Aushwitz. 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 intend 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 in. 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.
The history involved in this story was my favorite part. I had no clue German orphans were sent to South Africa after the war (and the requirements they wanted). For having studied WWII, I felt like a major fake student for not even knowing this. I’m definitely now more curious, so would love for, say, a movie of some sort to come out. Thanks Hollywood for handling that.
I really loved Gretl and Jakób. Gretl is charming and I enjoyed seeing her development with all she went through. Same with Jakób – to see your country go the way it did after a world war…what a time period to live through.
I really enjoyed seeing them through the years, the roles of Catholicism and Protestantism, and about South Africa. I would have enjoyed seeing how the happenings of South Africa at that time affected our characters as well, but I still enjoyed Gretl and Jakób’s story.
As with anything that is translated into English, I’m curious if there’s something I missed (like depth of emotion, connection, feelings, etc) due to translation. While I fully enjoyed the novel and the story it tells, that’s always in the back of my mind. Like what do other languages miss out on in works originally written in English?? I need to follow Tolkien and get my language study going :).
What’s a favorite translated book of yours?