Posted on 20th September 2011

Posted by Sophie

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Whitehaven Record Office group reads The English German Girl

As part of the Fiction Uncovered 2011 promotion, we worked with The Reading Agency to reach reading groups across the UK. As part of the promotion eight selected reading groups were given one of the selected Fiction Uncovered titles to read and we’re delighted that they’ve been able to feed back their thoughts.

We’ll be posting up a selection of the reviews over the coming months.

This is a review of  Jake Wallis Simons’  The English German Girl by Whitehaven Record Office reading group, Nethertown, Cumbria.

“The initial paragraphs of Simons’ novel give us little indication of the tumult that lies ahead for Rosa Klein as she embarks on her journey from a solid middle class childhood, through the beginnings of Nazi disempowerment of German Jews, and across the Channel to an alien existence where, throughout her life, others dictate her fate.

Simons’ narrative forces our hearts to beat frantically along with Rosa’s as she cycles through a burning Berlin in search of refuge, sits aboard the distressingly peaceful Kindertransport, and confronts her former sweetheart in Blitz-torn London.

We stand at Rosa’s shoulder reading the letters describing her family’s plight, and work through the cycle of 10 years of desperate worry, concern, and frustration, pushing thoughts of her family aside, distracted by Rosa’s own struggle and flight.  Desperation and determination in the end, give way to numbness.  Rosa gains her knowledge of the deaths as they met them, in a depersonalised, bleak, austere space.  They reduced to a number, she searching for a single name amongst thousands.   Their struggle and Rosa’s solitude are magnified for us in our contemporary understanding of the Holocaust.  Rosa, not only now as an orphan but as the English German girl, is marked, forever to be different, set aside by her experiences, even from those closest to her.

Our understanding of the vital roles played by Wollheim and de Rothschild in the preservation of human life, is cemented by their reappearance later in the novel, de Rothschild as a wedding guest, Wollheim assisting in the tracing of Julian.  Their survival, the continuation of their good works, along with Rosa’s, is the story that must be told, and Simons achieves this with defiance and with grace.

Rosa’s final act in the novel, to extract the promise from her husband never to send their child away as she was, throws us into confusion.  We are given a glimmer of hope for the future: Rosa’s promising career as hospital sister, Samuel’s successful business, and the rescue of Julian.  However, this glimmer is withdrawn as Rosa asserts that she would rather have stayed with her family and perished than to have endured the aching loneliness and life without them, bringing home to us the desperate choices that were made by parents during wartime.”

Jake Wallis Simons reads from The English German Girl.

Jake Wallis Simons interviewed about The English German Girl.

Damian Barr, judge for Fiction Uncovered 2011, on The English German Girl.

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