‘As the net closes in on the Jews of Berlin, a family places their hopes for survival in their teenage daughter, sending her from Germany to England. As she fights to make herself understood in a strange land, can she save them in time?’
Fiction Uncovered Judges 2011
A novel in three parts, spanning one of the most interesting and resonant decades of the twentieth century. We meet the Klein family in 1930s Berlin as they begin to feel the rise of the Reich. Father Otto loses his job as a surgeon; brother Heinrich becomes increasingly interested in Zionism; and mother Inga moves away from being an atheist as the Jews are persecuted. German friends try to help the family on Kristallnacht, and fifteen-year-old Rosa has a narrow escape from the Nazis and their sympathisers. Otto and Heinrich are taken to Sachsenhausen but rescued by one of their German friends who is a police superintendent. The family’s situation becomes graver.
In Part 2, Otto and Inga face the awful choice of which of their two younger children, 7-year-old Heidi or 15-year-old Rosa, they will send to England on the Kindertransport. They decide that Rosa will have more chance of securing them work visas to aid their own escape, and we follow her as she goes to join her father’s cousin and his family in London, the very religious Kremers. While on the train, she cares for a baby that has been sent by its mother. In London, Rosa begins a relationship with Samuel, her second cousin, which leads to pregnancy and disgrace. Meanwhile, war has broken out, and her family are trapped in Germany. Samuel’s mother Mimi coerces Rosa into having an abortion, and Samuel – drugged because of an infected wound – fails to intervene.
In Part 3, having run away and vowed never to see Samuel again, Rosa begins to try to fulfil her ambition to become a nurse. In the nurse’s home she must conceal both her German and her Jewish identities, but in the end she returns to London to work in a hospital. During the Blitz she is reunited with Samuel, who has been injured again. The war ends, Rosa becomes a Sister, and she and Samuel marry, only to discover that the abortion has left her unable to have children. At last she has to face learning what befell the rest of her family back in Germany, and this spurs her on to trace and adopt the baby she met on the Kindertransport train so many years before.
About Jake Wallis Simons:
Jake Wallis Simons is a novelist, journalist and graphic artist. Born in London in 1978, he was awarded a first class degree in English from St Peter’s College, Oxford, before undertaking a PhD in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia. Following the break-up of his parents’ marriage when he was about five-years-old, Jake’s mother returned to Judaism and he and his brother were raised in the faith although he, himself, no longer practices. Jake is a Fellow of The Royal Society of Arts and Practitioner-in-Residence at Bournemouth University. He lives in Winchester with his wife and three children. Jake is a contributor to the Guardian, the Independent on Sunday, the Telegraph, La Repubblica and BBC Radio 4′s From Our Own Correspondent, amongst others. The English German Girl is Jake’s second novel. His first The Exiled Times of a Tibetan Jew was called ‘Entertaining, provocative and original,’ by Beryl Bainbridge and named by the Independent on Sunday as a Book of the Year.
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.