The Girl From the Train by Irma Joubert
The Girl From the Train by Irma Joubert is one of those books that you begin to read and end up absorbing. It’s so much more than a story about a girl. It begins in Poland during the 2nd World War- with a young girl named Gretl who jumps from a train in the middle of the night with her sister, Elsa. They are expecting their family, Mutti and Oma, to join them and are confused as to why the train went on without Oma and Mutti jumping off. At the same time, Jakob and 2 others are sent to bomb a German troop train and realize once the bombs have been set that there is a horrible mistake about to occur- the train is coming from the opposite direction and the sick realization that it’s prisoners who are about to die, not soldiers like they intended. So when Jakob later finds Gretl alone, he feels very guilty for her loss and takes her in. Over time, Gretl, now Gretz, fits in and convinces those around here and in her school that she is a German, not Polish and certainly not a Jew.
The next phase in this book is when Gretz is given to an orphanage for the opportunity to be adopted out to an Afrikaner couple. But the stipulation is that she must be Germanic, and 100% Aryan at that. So she hides her Polish/Jewish background and becomes Grietjie and moves to South Africa.
This story segues seamlessly from one culture to another and shows just how resilient young children can be. Gretl questions her past and comes to terms with the fact that her grandparents died as a result of the train bombing. She is reunited with Jakob when he has to flee Germany and decides to go to South Africa.
This is a hauntingly realistic approach to the story of Jakob and Gretl- who were brought together through very strange circumstances and how their lives continued to intertwine as the years went by.