The Girl from the the Train by Irma Joubert, is a story that was originally published in South Africa, where it became a bestseller. It then traveled to The Netherlands, where it became a bestseller again. Originally published in Afrikaans in 2013, it is now being released to English language readers, so that we too can experience the beautiful love story of Gretl and Jakob!
The story opens on a train heading to Auschwitz in 1944 with 6 year old little Gretl being dropped from the freight car window in hopes of escaping from the atrocity her family knows awaits them. But how can a 6 year old little girl survive on her own in the middle of Poland? Especially when she has a fallen SS soldier for a father, a Jewish maternal grandmother, and a baptism in a Lutheran church...in a country fraught with racial and ethnic strife, it's going to be an impossible task!
Enter Jakob, a 27 year old Polish factory worker and political dissident. He stumbles over Gretl moments after he accidentally blows up the wrong train--one he unfortunately suspects she fell from! What can he do but take her home to his peasant family--practicing Catholics in an area abhorring anyone with German blood! Gretl and Jakob build up an incredible bond as he protects her and tries to take care of her...and both are devastated when Jakob is forced to finally turn her over to a German orphanage in hopes she will be able to be relocated with other German war orphans to South Africa. Knowing they may never see each other again, both are forced to accept their fate and look forward. The rest of the book follows each of them as they grow up in the years ahead and each hoping that just maybe they will meet back up through the grace of God.
What Are My Thoughts?
I read this book on my road trip home from Jekyll Island, GA and I was so glad that I didn't have to do anything else because this book hooked me from the start! The language is rich with word pictures and ripe with emotion. I hoped for Gretl when she was alone. I ached for Jakob when he finds her and realizes where she came from. I cried for both when they said their goodbyes. The author took me to every emotion the characters were feeling with her vivid language. The journey that Gretl and Jakob had to take was full of impossible odds, unfathomable heartache, and incredible joy.
This is an inspirational fiction book, which means there are Christian principles woven throughout the book. One such appears as Gretl is trying to understand why so many things keep happening to her--especially things relating to flame, for she suffers from nightmares of fire most of her life unaware of what the connection is (which isn't revealed until the end of the story). She was advised of the following by her adopted father:
"Just remember, when you suffer and feel the heat of the flames, that's when God is there. He watches carefully, until He can see His own image in you. He'll never leave you in the flames too long." pg 153-154
This is a beautiful summary of what God describes throughout the Bible--especially in Malachi 3:3 (which was actually being read by a character just prior to this quote) where God is likened to a refiner of gold and silver only He brings about righteousness. I think this quote really captures the overarching theme of the story. That God will keep you under His care even through the most horrific of times.
The second level theme is one of love...for this IS the love story of Gretl and Jakob. And as Gretl is searching to discover what her true feelings for Jakob are, she is advised about love by her adopted grandfather.
"Grietjie, love is not about excitement and physical desire and attraction. Those things are important, of course. But true love is the core that remains after the infatuation has burned out." pg 323
What a beautiful statement about love, and as you can see, continues to tie in with the theme of fire and flames that are woven throughout the book.
Out of all the people in the book, I actually think that Grandpa John was my most favorite character. Grandpa John is her adopted mother's wealthy father. He seemed to understand more than anyone else the battles that Gretl (also called Grietjie) faced in her life. Grandpa John understood her emotions and troubles at a deeper level because he himself battled the pain of loss. She confides to him what she goes through and he hears her, comforts her, and gives her the advice she needs to move forward. The moments where the two of them just sit together listening to music as they reflect on their memories of the past is so poignant.
As a side note, there is a part in the book where the lead character Gretl confesses that she'd like to write a book about her life. When asked what she would call it, she says "The Girl from the Train." She is encouraged to write it, but Gretl is hesitant because at the particular moment of the discussion, her life wasn't going the direction she was hoping. Her friend suggests that since it's her story and her book, she can make it have a happy ending no matter what. I think it's an interesting thought since the book ENDS with a happy ending--kind of gives you a tickle of the brain wondering if it was written in or if it really was...which then you know is the sign of a good book because you think of the characters are REAL!
How Would I Rate the Book?
This book is an excellent read. I love the way the themes of love and God's protection is woven throughout the book. The historical setting of the time around WW2 and then transitioning to South Africa in the post war years was beautiful. I enjoyed being introduced to the idea of the German war orphans and plan on doing more research on it myself. The author has a way with words that is phenomenal and touched me continuously during the story. I was sorry when the book was over because it meant my journey was done.
I highly recommend this book to anyone desiring a beautiful love story set in the time surrounding WW2. You will be swept away by the battles and inner demons each character experiences as they search for identity and belonging, amid injustices and suffering. It is no wonder that The Girl from the Train is already an international bestseller--I predict that it will touch the hearts of the English language readers as well!
The Girl From the Train is scheduled to be released for sale on November 3, 2015, but I urge you to go ahead and pre-order your copy!
The Girl from the Train
By Irma Joubert
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Available for order in paperback and Kindle. This book has also been selected by Target as their November 2015 Book Club Pick and will be featured in the book club section of their stores nationwide all year long. So reserve your copy today!
I am so happy that this book ended up being the exact sort that I enjoy and I've been spreading the word to my friends so they can get a copy for themselves!