Tuesday 21 January 2020

The Last Train to London

Finished January 15
The Last Train to London by Meg Waite Clayton

This novel is set mostly in the Netherlands and Austria. In the Netherlands, the main character is Truus (Geertruida) Wijsmuller-Meijer, a woman who smuggled children out of Nazi Germany, and then out of other countries controlled by the Nazis, prior to and during the Second World War. She told the children that she was saving to call her Tante Truus, and although she longed for children of her own, she and her husband Joop never were blessed with them. Truus was a real life woman who did this work, and although she was taken prisoner a couple of times by the Nazis, she lived through the war and was held in high esteem and with great affection by the children she saved. While most of Truus' story is based in fact, some small liberties were taken for the purpose of the novel.
In Austria, we follow young Stephan Neuman, born into a wealthy Jewish family who made chocolates, as he turns sixteen, seventeen, and nears eighteen as his world falls apart when the Nazis take over Austria, his parents' business, and his home in Vienna. Here we also see his little brother Walter, who has a much-loved Peter Rabbit doll he takes almost everywhere with him. Stephen wants to be a writer, specifically a playwright, and his model is Austrian writer Stefan Zweig. One of Stephen's classmates is Zofie-Helene Perger, who is a mathematical prodigy and the daughter of journalists. Her father died mysteriously on a trip to Germany before the story begins, and her mother has continued the newspaper they owned even as her own life and liberty become threatened by the Nazis.
As we see Truus' mission to save children become more difficult and dangerous, we also see her determination and the special relationship she and her husband had that made her work possible. In Austria, we see how Stephen's world collapsed so quickly from one of privilege and opportunity to one where he had to struggle just to stay alive. We see his mother's determination to save her children, despite her own illness, and the trust of young Walter that things would be better. For Zofie, we see her determination to stay true to her friendship with Stephen even when their differences in religion divided them under the Nazi regime, and how she defied her grandfather, who was trying to protect her, in helping Stephen in the ways that she could.
Clayton brings these times to life, with all the emotion that the characters felt. A great read.

1 comment:

  1. I’ve seen several reviews recommending this too. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.