WWII has fueled many books. Some would say that the WWII has consumed them by fire and in a way it did. For some the consummation was not total; for those lucky souls, they were able to move on, not forget about the war, Hitler, Holocaust, but find a semblance of life. A happy fulfilling life. This is the story of Gretz in Irma Joubert’s The Girl From The Train. A waif of an orphan, destined for the ovens of Auschwitz, Gretz is given a second chance. Most of her family though is not. Gretz though is not the typical Jewish girl for her father is an SS solider who is killed on the battlefield before the story opens. Whether he is of the Gestapo variety or an ordinary German father caught up in the war’s net is not made clear.
The Girl From The Train is two stories in one. One is Gretz and who she becomes. The other is of the Polish Resistance to the Nazis, and later Russian Communism. It is the story of freedom, enduring freedom. For Gretz, it means leaving her family behind even as they die around her, and assuming one new identity after another, first as a German Protestant, to a Polish Catholic, back to being a German Protestant, and then finally a Protestant anti-Communist Afrikaner in the post-WWII South Africa. The second story is of Poland’s struggle to remain free, to not be subsumed by hostile powers, first Germany, then Russia.
Irma Joubert’s writing is not the exquisite language of Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale or Elizabeth Stuart’s The Signature of All Things. It could not be given that part of the story is told by Gretz who is a small child at the story’s opening. But it is more than that. The Girl From The Train is a simply written story that is like a onion–many layers to peel, to discover the gems within. Joubert’s treatment of the subject matter–WWII, the Polish Resistance and the Holocaust are suitable for older YA readers. Gretz’s story is also a coming of age story for today’s teen readers.