Six-year-old Gretl Schmidt is on a train bound for Aushwitz. Jakób Kowalski is planting a bomb on the tracks.
As World War II draws to a close, Jakób fights with the Polish resistance against the crushing forces of Germany and Russia. They intend to destroy a German troop transport, but Gretl’s unscheduled train reaches the bomb first.
Gretl is the only survivor. Though spared from the concentration camp, the orphaned German Jew finds herself lost in a country hostile to her people. When Jakób discovers her, guilt and fatherly compassion prompt him to take her in. For three years, the young man and little girl form a bond over the secrets they must hide from his Catholic family.
But she can’t stay with him forever. Jakób sends Gretl to South Africa, where German war orphans are promised bright futures with adoptive Protestant families—so long as Gretl’s Jewish roots, Catholic education, and connections to communist Poland are never discovered.
Separated by continents, politics, religion, language, and years, Jakób and Gretl will likely never see each other again. But the events they have both survived and their belief that the human spirit can triumph over the ravages of war have formed a bond of love that no circumstances can overcome.
Wow! What a story! It felt like I was sitting next to someone who knew Gretl and Jakób, listening to them tell me their story, more than it felt like reading a work of fiction. The Girl From the Train (not to be confused with The Girl ON The Train lol) took me through an entire gamut of emotions – from poignant sadness to “the world is right again” joy to everything in between.
Both Gretl and Jakób quite honestly stole my heart – and the two together? I was done in. Bookworm/story-loving Gretl who has stoically endured more than her share of heartache for one so young. Serious, kindhearted, heroic Jakób who carries the weight of the world on his shoulders. Both have secrets that could damage their friendship… a friendship that really shouldn’t exist because of who she is and who watches him. But a friendship they do have. A deep, lasting, rare friendship that transcends political and religious prejudices, eventually distance and years, and even powerful secrets. Oh, my dear readers – there is so much I could say about them but it’s not my story to tell. You must read it for yourself.
The Girl From The Train was originally written in Afrikaans and published in South Africa, where it became a bestseller in 2013. Then it journeyed to the Netherlands where it again became a bestseller. Now, Thomas Nelson Publishers have brought this beautiful story of love and loss and heroism and sacrifice to English audiences. As such, the writing style loses a little to translation and takes a bit of adjustment at first. It just doesn’t flow like the fiction I’m used to reading; it has more of a nonfiction feel to it. But oh please don’t let that discourage you from picking up your own copy. Once I was a couple of chapters in, I was captivated and could not have turned away to save my life.
Bottom Line: Rich with history and humanity, The Girl From The Train will replace dates and facts with faces and heartbeats to make the events come alive in your spirit. I learned much I did not know about Poland in the years during and after WW2, as well as about South Africa and the German orphan initiative there. But woven vividly through all the information were the people – the reason I could not put down the book, the reason my heart became so involved in the reading and in the outcome. If you were captivated by The Book Thief, you don’t want to miss The Girl From the Train! If The Book Thief wasn’t really your thing, you are not alone – it wasn’t my favorite either. The Girl From The Train is everything I wanted The Book Thief to be, and I think you’ll enjoy it too.
(I received a copy of this book in exchange for only my honest review.)
International bestselling author Irma Joubert lives and works in South Africa and writes in her native Afrikaans. A teacher for thirty-five years, Irma began to write after her retirement. She is the author of eight novels and is a regular fixture on bestseller lists in both South Africa and The Netherlands. Irma and her husband Jan have been married for forty-five years, and they have three sons and a daughter, two daughters-in-law, a son-in-law, and three grandchildren. The Girl From The Train is her first novel to be translated into English.
Great review, Carrie. I will definitely be reading this one. Just curious — would you classify this book as Christian fiction? I know it’s published by Thomas Nelson but they seem to be going in a different direction theses days.
Ummm… It’s not overtly “Christian”, no. But there are certainly strong elements of faith and discussions about God and Jesus.
I loved this review, and agree whole – heartedly! My book club is supposed to be discussing this book tonight and I think because it’s been translated and so new to our country, I haven’t been able to find any discussion questions? Do you have any tips or advice on where I could look?
hmmm… you are right. I can’t find any discussion questions either! I did find this section for book clubs on the book’s website – and it has a lot of fun stuff – but no questions :-/ http://www.girlfromthetrain.com/bookclub.php
I love your review Carrie! You really explained the book and added so much detail to the book! What would be the main setting of the book? I really look forward to reading it!
thank you, Wendy! The main setting is WW2 Poland as well as South Africa
I read the Afrikaans version when it was originally published and I agree, it took some adjusting to get into the English version.
sometimes i’ve noticed that in translated works – but I’m just glad it WAS translated into English so we could read it 🙂