The Daughter’s Tale by Armando Lucas Correa: Haunting and heartbreaking story which is inspired by real events - book review -

The Daughter's Tale
The Daughter's Tale

Between 1933 and 1939, German Jews watched in horror as the country in which they had found peace, prosperity and protection fell into the hands of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, one of the most brutal regimes the world had ever seen.

Between 1933 and 1939, German Jews watched in horror as the country in which they had found peace, prosperity and protection fell into the hands of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, one of the most brutal regimes the world had ever seen.

For many Jews, the chance of escaping Germany was foiled by lack of funds, logistics, or family constraints, and even those who did flee Adolf Hitler and his henchmen, found the journey to freedom was fraught with dangers.

For the rest, remaining in Nazi Germany was virtually a death sentence… and for some parents, it would test just how far they were prepared to go to save their children.

Armando Lucas Correa, a Cuban writer, journalist and editor who lives in New York, made waves with his debut novel, The German Girl, an international bestseller based on a true wartime story, which was written in Spanish and has been translated into fourteen languages and published in more than twenty countries.

And now he returns to the Second World War for another haunting and heartbreaking story which is again inspired by real events, including the ill-fated voyage of a German liner carrying Jewish refugees from Hamburg to Cuba in 1939, and the barbaric massacre by the Nazis of all the inhabitants of a small French village in 1944.

It’s a tale that asks questions about life, love, the choices we are forced to make in the most terrifying of times, how we handle overwhelming feelings of guilt, and the powerful bonds of family that can survive against all the odds.

In New York in 2015, elderly widow Elise Duval is a French Catholic who arrived in the city after the Second World War and was adopted by an uncle. When a woman and her daughter from Cuba visit unexpectedly with a box of letters, written in German to Elise by her mother during the war, her world is forever changed.

Her mother’s words unlock a floodgate of memories, a lifetime of loss that she has never truly had time to mourn. Disturbing events in Elise’s past had been locked away ‘for the sake of her survival’ but this could be her last chance for closure as she remembers a time and country she had long since forgotten.

In Charlottenburg in 1939, the dreams that bookshop owner Amanda Sternberg and her heart specialist husband, Julius, had for their young daughters, Viera and Lina, are shattered when the Nazis descend on Berlin, burning the contents of their beloved family shop and sending Julius to a concentration camp.

Quoting 19th century German writer and poet Heinrich Heine, Amanda’s good friend, Hilde, warns ‘When they burn books, they will also end up burning people,’ and desperate to save her children, Amanda is offered the chance to put the two girls on the liner St Louis which is taking refugees to Cuba.

But at the dock in Hamburg, Amanda is forced to make an impossible choice that will haunt her for the rest of her life. She flees toward the south of France but in her hiding place with a family in Haute-Vienne, Amanda’s brief respite is destroyed by the arrival of Nazi troops, and once again she finds herself forced to make a heroic sacrifice…

Correa’s beautifully woven and multi-layered novel stitches together the past and the present with some exquisite and moving storytelling as Elise is forced to come to terms with shocking events which she had deliberately banished from her memory in an act of self-survival.

As Elise’s heart-rending wartime story – and seven decades of secrets – begins to unravel, we step back in time to meet the other members of her once warm and loving family, and learn about the terrible suffering, the remarkable bravery, and the unthinkable decisions and sacrifices that a mother had to make for her children.

With prose that soars, real history that makes us weep, and its stark, unflinching portrayal of breathtaking horrors, The Daughter’s Tale is a compelling reminder of the very worst of human behaviour, but also a tribute to the indomitable strength of the human spirit, and its power to both heal and redeem.

(Simon & Schuster, paperback, £8.99)