First thoughts: I always enjoy stories from the WWII era, as my grandparents fled from the Ukraine at that time. Books like this always move me, giving a small glimpse into what they went through. I liked the unique perspective from a war orphan who’s sent to South Africa to be adopted.
Plot: Six year old German Gretl Schmidt was on a train with her family, bound for Auschwitz, but she’s able to escape along with her sister. The two are lost in the countryside of Poland, until a young man, Jakob Kowalski and his family take them in. A few years later, the Kowalski’s are no longer able to take care of Gretl, and Jacob must return her to her homeland. Torn, Jakob decides the best he can do for Gretl is leave her at an orphanage where they’re looking for children to send to South Africa for adoption. All the while, Gretl is forced to hide her Jewish background and Jakob is joining the fight against the communists taking over his country.
Characters: The story is told through the perspectives of Gretl and Jakob. It follows them until Gretl’s a young woman in college. I found Gretl to be a very bright character, as she seems to have no trouble adapting or understanding situations, even at a young age. She immediately earns my sympathy as she’s separated from all her family. One aspect that I found a little confusing was Gretl’s name changes. In Poland she’s known as Gretz, though Jakob calls her Gretchen. Then when she moves to South Africa, she’s called Grietjie. I understand that’s part of the language differences, but as a reader, I found it disconnected me from the main character because I didn’t know what to call her.
Recommendation: I’d highly recommend this story to those who enjoy historical fiction and the WWII time period. It was an emotionally moving coming of age tale that I very much enjoyed.
Rating: 4.5/5 stars
I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Giveaway: What’s your favorite time period to read about? Leave a comment to enter to win my slightly used Advance Reader’s Copy of The Girl From the Train. US mailing addresses only, please. Giveaway ends Oct. 21st at midnight.