As part of the Fiction Uncovered 2011 promotion, we worked with The Reading Agency to reach reading groups across the UK. Eight selected reading groups were given one of the Fiction Uncovered titles to read, and we’re delighted that they’ve been able to feed back their thoughts. Here, Whitehaven Record Office reading group, from Nethertown in Cumbria, tell us what they thought abut Jake Wallis Simons’ The English German Girl.
‘The English German Girl follows the journey of Jewish Berliner Rosa Klein’s harrowing separation from her family at the age of fifteen to board the Kindertransport to England. Her mission is to secure her family’s escape from Germany, a task that is hindered by her Jewish host parents, the Kremers, in England, and thwarted by the outbreak of the Second World War. Jake Wallis Simons seamlessly interweaves the story of Rosa’s family life in Berlin, her struggle in England, the development of her relationship with the Kremers’ son Samuel and her training to be a nurse with a thoroughly researched historical background and the introduction of some real-life characters.
‘A particular strength of the book was the depiction of the Klein family in pre-war Berlin. Jake Wallis Simons powerfully portrays the resilience of adolescent Heinrich, and teenage Rosa’s emotional turmoil at such a tender age as she faces leaving her family when circumstances deteriorate. The parents try to protect the children at first by shielding them from the harsh realities; in fact, the father takes a long time to contemplate the real potential horrors even to himself, in the country he feels part of and had previously fought for. The convincing use of dialogue, the poignant detail of the scene-setting and the tenderly portrayed emotions were outstanding.
‘Strength is a recurring theme: strength of character, strength to prevail, strength to believe, strength to recover, strength to forgive (within Samuel’s family). Towards the end Rosa questions, “Could it be that hardness is not a sign of strength after all, but just another manifestation of weakness? Might the course of true strength be to lower her guard, to face the risks, to accept them?”
‘The unravelling of the sensations, almost in slow motion, felt by Rosa on her wedding day and which finally enabled her to weep for the loss of her family was one of the most powerfully delivered fictional scenes we have ever read, made all the more poignant by the reality of the Holocaust.’
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.