BOAT OF STONE by Maureen Earl


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In 1940, in a desolate Rumanian port, nearly two thousand Jewish refugees were transferred to the S.S. Atlantic, a crowded ship with scarce food and an indifferent crew. Some believed or hoped or doubted, they would arrive in Palestine. Turned away, those who survived would be sent instead to a British penal colony in the Indian Ocean. Here, Earl's fictional narrator is a Tel Aviv grandmother who remembers. Hanna Sommerfeld, possessed of old rage, guilts and griefs--and some present joys--remembers the war years: the terror and humiliation in her native Vienna and the painful odyssey of escape; deaths, loss, and hardship on the ocean transports; expulsion from Palestine lay the British; and, at last, the penal colony in Africa--its 30 windowless iron huts; fascinated Creole natives and tight-lipped British; rain and heat; insects and disease; the growing strengths of women without men (the sexes were separated); the kindnesses of individuals; and the precious small freedoms as the war ends. Throughout, Hanna muses on her marriage to Daniel, who would die of disease in the prison. Did she love the man enough in his suffering? The marriage produced a son but otherwise ""bore only the fruit of hollow uncertainty."" Now in Tel Aviv at the end of her life, Hanna is a crusty old lady with an ancient beau, family, and a great-grandchild, also called Daniel. ""I looked at him closely to see if my Daniel might be there somewhere...Why not?"" Earl (Gulliver Quick, Jan. 1992) has a strong narrative pace, rumbling here and there with Hanna's fevered asides. The author's many interviews with survivors give this little-known chapter of the Jewish WW II exodus a gritty sense of reality.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1993
Page count: 200pp
Publisher: Permanent Press