A Holocaust chronicle touching on survivor’s guilt and the force of family ties.
In his second novel, Correa (The German Girl, 2016) tells the story of Lina Sternberg, a Jewish girl born in Berlin in 1935 to a heart doctor and his spirited wife, Amanda, owner of a bookshop destroyed by the Nazis. Lina endures terrible suffering and loss during the war but eventually settles in America and starts a new life. She suppresses the painful memories of her early days and almost manages to shed her true identity. The first part of the book, spanning the years 1933 to 1942, focuses on Amanda and her frantic efforts to save Lina and her older sister, Viera, from the Nazi horrors. Viera is shipped off to Cuba, where Amanda’s brother lives; Lina and her mother hide out in a French village under the protection of a Christian woman named Claire, but they wind up in a horrific French internment camp. Amanda, however, engineers a daring escape for her daughter, who is reunited with Claire and her daughter, Danielle. Though grim, this part of the narrative is gripping and stirring. The second part is also eventful, but it meanders and lacks focus. Plus, the young Lina (now called Elise), unlike her mother, is not a strong enough character to anchor the action. There is vivid writing, especially in the first part, and some memorable images—for instance, Amanda’s talismanic botanical album, filled with hand-painted pictures of plants and flowers. As in The German Girl, the real-life 1939 voyage of the ocean liner St. Louis from Hamburg to Havana figures in the plot; here, the 1944 S.S. massacre of villagers in the tiny French town of Oradour-sur-Glane in the Limoges region also plays a role.
Though it's sometimes involving and insightful, Correa's novel is ultimately too diffuse to have the intended impact.