When the British novel titled “The German
English Girl” was published in London in 2011, the deeply-felt
”kindertransport”-themed book received high praise and good reviews
in England. But it was never released in America and was never reviewed in
the New York Times or other prestigious national newspapers.
Jewish media in North America ignored Jake Wallis Simons novel, and
important books about the Holocaust shouldn’t be treated that way on
this side of the Atlantic.
Simons is a 34-year-old Jewish novelist in Britain, and he’s written
three novels so far.
Via Twitter, I reached out and asked Jake about his
”kindertransport” novel. When I asked him in a tweet if the book had
been released in New York, he replied: “No, never.” I could not
believe my ears, well, in this case, my eyes. How could an important
Jewish novel like this remain unpublished in America?
“An English German Girl,” Simons second novel on Jewish themes, got
very positive reviews in his native country. “Fascinating and moving.
Shines a light on a
neglected aspect of WWII,” said British novelist Monica Ali.
In the novel, as a publication note puts it, “the Klein family in Germany is
slowly but surely losing everything they hold dear — or ever took for
granted — as Hitler’s anti-Jewish laws take hold in 1930s Berlin. In
desperation, fifteen-year-old Rosa is put on a Kindertransport train
out of the country, to begin a new life in England. In a foreign country,
barely able to make herself understood, she struggles to find a way to
rescue her parents. Overtaken by the war, however, they gradually lose
touch. Now Rosa must face the prospect of not only being unable to
fulfil her vow to save her family but also of an unknown future, quite
Calling Simons “one of Britain’s most compelling and original new
voices,” a British reviewer said that Simons blended ”meticulous research with
powerful storytelling in an epic journey from heartbreak to hope.”
Certainly this is a Holocaust-themed novel worth being released in
America, too. Why it was published only in Britain when the entire
English-speaking world — and especially Jewish readers everywhere —
would benefit from reading it is a publishing industry puzzle. One
reviewer in London even compared the book to “Schindler’s List,” which
was written by an Australian novelist before making its way around the
world. So I, for one, am rooting for Simon’s kindertransport novel to
get a second chance at reaching Jews world with a New York release.
The novel will surely resonate with American readers.
Here’s a telling anecdote: When the book was published in 2011, Simons
made an appearance at a book
festival in Britain and appeared on the stage alongside Walter
Kammerling, a Kindertransport survivor whom he had
interviewed years ago, when he was just starting to write the book.
“Walter brought home to me … the greater meaning of my novel, which
is to keep the memory of the ‘Kindertransport’ alive in the minds of
future generations. Or, on an even more fundamental level, to allow
people to empathize with the persecuted and oppressed,” Simons says.
“Walter had travelled halfway across the country to appear at the book
festival, determined — even at the age of 91 — to spread his message
of pluralism and
tolerance. My book, in some very small (and perhaps incomparable) way,
is contributing to this effort.”
“After the event, there was a [book] signing,” Simons said. “A few
people asked Walter to sign the novel as well. Before long this became
the form; I would sign it, then he would sign below. I was humbled.
This seemed to be exactly the right way to end such a very unique
And an even better way to put a coda to Simon’s novel would be to see
in America, too, perhaps with a Hollywood screenplay to follow as
well. Important novels like this one should not be hidden away in
England. I hope the New York and Boston publishing world is reading this article.
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